In the Pomodoro Method, productivity is spurred by a timer. (The original was apparently a tomato-shaped egg timer, hence the name.) You set the timer for 25 minutes, work work work, then reset the timer for five minutes and rest rest rest. Take a bio-break, get some water, do a little dance, whatever.
Importantly, the five minutes isn’t a reward for using the 25 minutes well. The five minutes is a critical, if brief, recharge so that you’ll use the next 25 minutes well.
This, of course, is not how we tend to treat rest in our culture that fetishizes being busy, being exhausted. Instead, rest and recharge and self-nurturing are things we do as rewards and/or coping mechanisms and/or because we have slammed full-on into the wall of burn-out and can’t do anything but be still.
I certainly fall prey to that same dynamic, though my days of working well past dinner ended when my cohabitation with Theresa began. Still, vacations for us have included a tiny bit of tension as I struggled between wanting to be present and feeling the pull of one little email check, one little note to a client.
Not so last week when Theresa, my wife of now 10 days, and I took a honeymoon trip to the outskirts of Charleston, SC, which is an easy drive from our home in Virginia. This wasn’t a vacation, friends. This was a honeymoon and as such, I applied myself diligently to presence. There was a moment of tension when a stream of texts and emails came in announcing and reacting to a major change at a company I coach for and then I tucked that away, too, telling my colleagues I would attend to the details and check in to swap concerns after we’d returned.
We did a lot of neat stuff, no doubt. Sure, we made the obligatory spin through the City Market and past Rainbow Row and stood in line for an hour to eat a low-country boil that was mediocre on a deck with a view that was sublime. We took an absolutely stellar walking history tour focused on the incredible matriarchs of the city. We even kayaked through a cypress forest – kayaked!
And one evening, we ate takeout on the patio of our Airbnb, surrounded by endless plants dripping out of handmade containers of every kind, with a blaze in the Buddha-topped fireplace in the center of the deck, curled on a daybed. After dinner, we read and just sat. When our host came home, he offered to put on music and so the crackle of wood and chorus of birds and insects was accompanied by the strumming and storytelling of John Prine.
It was only after I changed my diet six and a half years ago that I fully attended to the reality that I had been living with a nearly-constant low-grade headache because suddenly it was gone. It was only after I had given myself fully to presence while honeymooning that I fully attended to the slight edge that is nearly always poking at my innards, the sharp stick of Do More and Do It Faster. For a full week, it wasn’t there. I felt light and easy going and the smile on Theresa’s face showed she felt it, too.
This is not the first time I’ve learned this lesson, though this was a particularly notable teaching. It will likely not be the last time I learn it. But such is learning, at least when it comes to the big stuff: A cycle of repetition in which the latest lesson gets layered on in a slightly new way, atop a stouter and stouter base, as the information slowly makes its way from intellectual understanding to muscle memory.