The dashboard indicator light

Sometimes you just need to slow down and check in with your heart

"Light." Watercolor crayons and pastel on paper. Original artwork by Bernadette Cay.

"Light." Watercolor crayons and pastel on paper. Original artwork by Bernadette Cay.

I’m writing to you from a rooftop terrace in Penestanan, a quiet neighborhood a short scooter ride from downtown Ubud. Lush green treetops meet the feet of blue-misted volcanoes. Cheesy pop music wafts up from a restaurant downstairs.

Mornings are my most creative time, when my internal and external worlds are quiet and clear. Here in Bali, writing in the morning is especially a treat. The freshly risen sun is soft and the air is light. Both become heavy in a few hours–slowing actions, slowing thoughts.

If you had told me a month ago I’d be here, I wouldn’t have believed you. Everything was going along swimmingly, until the beginning of May. Something felt “off.”

Up until last year, I drove a car from 1996. When something was wrong, the dashboard indicator light would go off: “Check Engine.” No further information. This time, it was as if my intuition’s indicator light had gone off: “Check In With Your Heart.”

I used to bury that feeling with work. My rationale was: if I just kept pushing forward, the feeling would go away. By now, I knew to get curious about that feeling instead.

Was I doing the “wrong” things, working on projects that weren’t aligned? No. Well then, was I feeling fear or resistance? No. There’s no shame in either of these, and I was deeply familiar with both feelings, but these weren’t it. Not this time.

I was simply tired. Physically, mentally, and spiritually tired.

Over the past year and a half, I had been going non-stop: the “Energizer Bunny” vigor that I had poured into being a product manager was simply re-directed towards my creative projects and inner work. For the past 29 years, my self-worth had been based on work and achievements. Through this lens, rest is shameful. At the end of my book, I had even described my need for rest. Yet even after launch, I didn’t take a break. My body and my soul were now telling me it was finally time.

I cleared my calendar of everything that wasn’t urgent. Even after just a week of rest and space, I started to feel signs of life again. Signal from my inner compass started to return. I read the book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, which helped me understand how my “Achiever” personality had pushed me to this place and how to manage it going forward.

I thought that just one week of slowing down would do do it and I’d be back to normal. But the second week, I descended into a deeper state of rest. Tara Mohr’s article “Braking Without Breaking” helped me understand what was going on. She writes: “How do you slow down a car going 60mph? You don’t slam on the brake. That would hurt you as well as the people nearby. You certainly don’t criticize the car for having momentum. You do two things: 1) You take your foot off the gas. You stop doing the things that are fueling the motion. 2) You put your foot on the brake. Softly at first, then more. You tap it a few times.” In that second week, I was decelerating into rest.

A good friend whisked me off to Napa for a weekend. The change of scenery definitely helped. As we drove back, the closer we got the grey concrete of the city, the more anxious I became.

I now craved two colors: green and blue. The forest and the ocean. I spent some time in Muir Beach, tucked between both. I knew this trough I was in was part of a normal cycle, even if I didn’t fully understand it quite yet. To help understand, I read Maureen Murdock's book The Heroine's Journey. This line struck me: "After the dryness and aridity experienced during this separation from the "above" [daily life] she yearns for the moist, green, juicy aspect of the creative feminine." That was it.

I craved even more green and more blue. I had always wanted to go to Bali. I had told myself I’d go one day... when I had “achieved” something of note, when I had “earned” it. I had caught that thought pattern red-handed. At Muir Beach, I had also read Kristin Neff’s powerful and practical book Self-Compassion, which brought me a lot of peace. With self-compassion, I gave myself permission to book my trip, to rest and to reconnect with my inner compass.

During my time here so far, I’m thankful to have received so much. No place is perfect, yet the divine is hard to miss out here. The green forests and rice paddies, the blue ocean, the mountains and volcanoes. Ornate stone temples and shrines sit shoulder to shoulder with homes and shops. Offerings of bright flowers and burning incense line every nook and sidewalk. Flowers adorn staircases and the mouths of statues.

The grittiness and the beauty have provided plenty of opportunities to manage fear and uncertainty. To practice trust, faith, and patience. To observe so many subtleties, like how solitude and loneliness are different from isolation. Or when to look within and when to ask for help. How being un-rushed is different from being being inefficient. How receiving is different from taking.

Now I’m craving a few days of silence. I’m about to get my suitcase and head to a silent eco-retreat center in a more rural part of Bali. Slowing actions, slowing thoughts–to more deeply rest and to more deeply listen.

What is the dashboard indicator light of your heart telling you today?