“You can do a lot things with ash, but what you can’t do is get more heat out of ash. Because all of the heat, all of the calories stored, have been released. Often we get to dive into a project and work on it really hard. But then we need comp time. We need the break. If we don’t take the break every day, we need to take the break in chunks. And our system is not set up to allow us to do that.”

Burnout is not natural. It is a natural reaction to unnatural demands. And the demands are getting worse. How to create space to recover from burnout; and how do we create a world that prevents it?

note: the Intensives Institute Salon mentioned in this episode was originally scheduled for September 13, 2023 but was moved to September 20th, 2023.

Transcript and notes:


Recorded 11 September 2023.


Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in.

It's September and somewhere I have a list of topics that I've been collecting for things that I can talk with you about. I like to make a note if I'm not in a place where I can make a good quality recording.

Although I'm a little tempted to try doing more recordings in the field, because sometimes the ideas come and then they go. And as you know, with intensives, if you don't talk to the muse, when she shows up, you're not going to talk to her, because she's not going to come back. So anyway, maybe I should make fewer exactly perfectly fancy sound quality recordings and more messy recordings. To give you some of my other thoughts.

But meanwhile, I've been moving slowly. Because our theme this month is basically burnout. Burnout, harvest, relaxed spaciousness, trying to hit that ease point, instead of that stress point, right?

You ever look at a plant that's given, it's all? A vegetable plant, that's, that's grown and grown and gone. And then it just it came to the end of its natural life, and it stops. It just stops like it doesn't- it knows that there's no more to give. And so the next thing it gives is its decomposition. And its release of its place in the garden, on the earth, the release of its resources back into the soil.

That can get really morbid really fast if we follow it too far. But burnout does slow us down. Burnout slows us down in ways that really nothing else does. If you've never had burnout., that's fantastic. Please keep doing that. Whatever you're doing to rest, to recover, to take breaks to be supported. That's wonderful.

But here's the thing: one of the things that burnout does is it makes it literally impossible to function. If you imagine an entirely consumed log. Entirely, all down to ash. That's what burnout does. You can do things with ash, you can make soap with ash, you can make rituals with ash. I suppose you could probably paint with ash. I've never tried. But what you can't do is get heat out of ash.

Because all of the heat, all of the calories stored have been released. And when that's happened, you have to grow a new plant, you simply- there's nothing else you can do. You don't get you don't get choices.

That's the hard part about the way we handle burnout in this culture is that people treat it like it's a choice. It's not a choice. Once you've hit that point, you have got to stop. And capitalism and our culture don't usually make room for that.

But we have to insist that we do something differently because burnout is becoming worse. And burnout is becoming worse because we've gone from a society that, at least for most people, the expected ideal was that there was one adult working outside the home in the household. And they worked from nine to five, including the lunch break. Including their lunch break.

Eight to five was like when they were like "No, no, we have to you- we're not going to pay you for your lunch break." And then they were like, "but can you work through your lunch break?" And then they were like, "oh, and you're gonna need to work late, you need to work early" and- Intensives work well with a more erratic schedule.

Often we get to dive into a project and work on it really hard. But then we need comp time. We need the break. We just, if we don't take the break every day, we need to take the break in chunks. And our system is not set up to allow us to do that. But we have got to do that.

And I'm telling you that from here inside a very long slow burnout recovery. If I don't rest, my brain just doesn't do the thing. It just won't. And that's not just me. That's basically everybody. If we don't get enough rest, our brains will eventually quit. They go on strike. And what happens when our brains go on strike? We lose our sense not only of our work, but slowly of our identity.

So this is critical stuff, this burnout recovery stuff.

I had scheduled our next salon for the membership on {September} 13th. And the theme is, of course burnout because we're following those themes with the salons. And I woke up this morning and realized that I have done no promotion. And the reason I've done no promotion is that I've been kind of doggy paddling to keep my head above water. And I keep literally forgetting that the salon is going to happen soon.

I also would like to have more members in the Institute. All of the things that I have planned and all the things that I've been doing work best with it with a good decent-sized crowd in them. And so far, I have not been able to gather that crowd. But I still believe in it.

Now, do I need to do what the garden says, and just give up? Well, the problem is that there are a lot of factors. If you don't know what fertilizer, what water to give your garden; if your water needs a filter. If this one needs calcium, and you've been giving it nitrogen, or I don't even know I'm a terrible gardener. Just enthusiastic.

But one way or the other, you can't just give up on a garden because it doesn't grow.

And so I've spent almost the last year poking around trying to figure out what, what would make this a rich and fertile garden. Because I really do believe in it. I know that intensives need other intensives. It's sort of like companion planting, we're not identical, but we give each other what we need. And I know that the kinds of ideas and world changing that can come out of those encounters are amazing.

We will all do better with more of that.

And I know that we're tired.

And I know that we're intensives. And I know that do we really need another thing to do? But I also know that we like one-on-one, focused attention. We like to get our specific answers, not some generic answers. And no matter what I do putting information out into the world, all of this is fairly generic. It's specific to intensive experiences. But it's not specific to any one intensive.

I can't be specific to any one intensive on a podcast. I can't be specific to any one intensive in an essay. The only way I can be specific to intensives' specific problems and specific challenges and specific joys is to have specific intensives. And we learn by example, often. And so to put those conversations in public makes a lot of sense; or not necessarily in "public" public but in a safer container. Because we are also tender.

So instead of doing the salon this week, which by the time you hear this, it will be several weeks gone. Instead of doing the salon this week. I'm moving iy to next week. I'm going to set it around the equinox. I'm going to give us the opportunity to breathe a little and I am going to talk about the membership which I don't do very often in public. See if I can get some more people to join us. See if I can get some more people to come around.

I think we need to be having conversations about burnout and not just throwing platitudes at them. We can't just say go rest without saying why we should go rest. But we also can't say just go rest without saying how.

In a high-pressure, late-stage, capitalistic hellscape- how on earth do we get the kind of rest we need to recover? To imagine a different world to live differently, to build systems that are different?

We're tired. All of those images of unending drudgery from my childhood, from Pink Floyd's "The Wall," from other similar artistic works. They're all coming back to haunt me. Because what seemed fairly limited then in the world, not non-existent but limited, is now everywhere. It's everywhere. And there are these efforts to turn back the clocks on labor laws. Because industry is full of people who just want to grind everyone into dust.

Which doesn't seem like a good business decision to me at all. But it also isn't a good world decision, obviously, which is why I'm doing this work.

Here's the imagination question: If you were part of a worker owned Co Op, and everyone got an equal hand in the decision making, what would your job look like? And if you own your own business, what should your job look like? If you are in charge, how would you make a difference? If you are not engaged in an adversarial negotiation with your employer, but instead, you were the person with power and also the person who had to work in the system. What would it be?

Because burnout is not natural. It is a natural consequence of unnatural demands. And we don't have to live like this.

Thanks for tuning in.