Many of us feel
stress and get overwhelmed
not because we're taking on
too much, but because we are
taking on too little of what
really strengthens us.
~ Marcus Buckingham
A majority of people coming into my office these days are hoping to alleviate stress and a sense of overwhelm. They know they "should" meditate or exercise or eat better but they don't seem to have or make the time. There is always something else to do, that is more pressing, urgent or more of a priority. Often these priorities are work-related or they may get caught up in a social life that's not really very fulfilling. In response, many people end up zoning out with the internet, TV, drugs or alcohol to get away from everything.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? On the one hand, it's important to find ways to deal with circumstances that may feel stressful, as they will always present themselves to us in life; we may prefer a calm sea, but often the ocean is full of waves. Can you learn to body surf those waves, to ride them instead of letting them pull you under or cowering in fear on the shore? This is why mindfulness and meditation are so popular now; they are great tools to help us deal with what life presents us with in each and every moment.
On the other hand, if much of your life feels consistently stressful or overwhelming, maybe it is time for some things to change. What is it you need to feel less anxious and to be able to take deep breaths, to truly enjoy and appreciate life? If your job is demanding or stressful, is it also rewarding and meaningful? If not, maybe it's time to consider what work may be more fulfilling to you. If your social or family life feel more like an obligation or weigh you down, rather than make you happy, what needs to change in these relationships? If your exercise or eating patterns are not energizing, how can you revamp them? If you are often depressed or burdened by unresolved issues from the past, could it be time to see a therapist?
Consistent stress and overwhelm are signs that something isn't working in your life; they are a tap on the shoulder that it's time to evaluate your life and see what you truly desire. More time in the outdoors? New activities you have thought about but put off trying? A vacation? Going back to school? What does your heart call out for? What do you need to hear that your heart has been whispering to you? Can you listen to and honor these messages from your deeper self?
Moving fast is not the same
as going somewhere.
~ Robert Anthony
We live in a very fast-paced culture. Speed is valued everywhere: how quickly you can get a task or project done (to begin another one), how fast you can run, how much you can get done at one time by multi-tasking. How many different balls you can juggle without dropping any of them. Sometimes it seems that life is like running very fast on a treadmill, or riding hard in a spinning class, moving very fast yet going nowhere.
Life is often consumed in moving quickly from item to item on the never-ending to-do list at home and at work. This doesn't leave much time to be in the moment. And it doesn't leave much time for dreaming, contemplating, and wondering. Creativity needs time and space to bubble up with ideas of all kinds, including where you would like to go in life.
Can you allow yourself time each day to slow down, to inhabit and savor the moment? Can you allow yourself the time to contemplate, to wonder, to fan the creative flames, to make room for the inner guidance that whispers to you of your dreams and desires? Can you ride the waves of your intuition that will always show you the path that will genuinely take you where you need to be?
How beautiful it is
to do nothing, and then
to rest afterward.
~ Spanish Proverb
Maybe because it's summer, I am drawn to revisit this theme of resting and doing nothing. Or maybe the motif keeps coming to mind because our culture is on high-speed auto-pilot and it feels like balance is essential to our physical and emotional well-being.
The image of doing nothing and resting afterwards may elicit a smile or laughter as it's so contrary to the way most of us live our lives. And it's no surprise that it's a Spanish proverb as Siestas originated there! The tradition isn't as strong in Spain as it used to be, but still exists as life generally has a slower pace.
Maybe we don't have time every day to do nothing and rest afterward, but the image is a good counter-point to the general frenetic pace of life. For parents, it may be even more difficult to imagine finding time to do nothing and/or rest. However, children are great examples of this principle. They are masters of living in the moment, of playing, of being dazzled by the slightest detail, the smallest newly noticed thing. And then they fall into deep sleep easily ( usually)!
Many large companies now have meditation rooms or scheduled meditation times, yoga classes, quiet rooms. Even in the midst of your busy work place, can you find time and space to do nothing? Can you gift yourself with moments of doing nothing ( and not feeling guilty about it) and rest? Could you imagine embodying this Spanish proverb and seeing what it's like?
slow down, be kind.
And don't forget to have
art in your life-
music, paintings, theater, dance,
~ Eric Carle
Maybe because it's summer and actually warm here in San Francisco, my most recent post (7/20) and this one are focused on simple pleasures and simple enjoyment in life. Many of my blogs do address slowing down and simplifying, but in a more focused and introspective way.
Today I simply am reminded and want to share that reminder with you, that life can be simpler and filled with all kinds of art that inspire, renew, nourish and bring joy and/or a sense of oneness. As the quote above includes sunset as art, it can clearly be interpreted very broadly. The dictionary defines art in part as something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.
The quote seems to be purposefully vague in not specifying how to have art in your life. That is up to you. Do you witness it or do you create or participate in creating it? Or maybe both. Which forms call to you? Which forms make your heart sing or lift your mood or make you ponder the meaning of life? Which ones bring you great joy? Which ones make you feel one with the Universe and life?
Allow yourself to notice where you are called to participate in or witness art and which forms resonate with you. Allow them to guide you to connect through your senses, to yourself and to the world around you.
Rest is not idleness,
and to lie sometimes on the grass
under trees on a summer's day,
listening to the murmur of the water,
or watching the clouds float across the sky,
is by no means a waste of time.
~ John Lubbock
We are having exceptionally warm weather in the SF Bay Area this week, where summers are usually foggy and chilly. I visited a friend who has a beautiful home in the Berkeley Hills. She and her husband have done a lot of work on their yard/garden; it is a beautiful refuge and respite full of flowers and fruit trees, a vegetable garden and a beautiful patio shaded naturally by flowering trees and bushes.
We sat in the patio in comfortable reclining garden chairs, drinking fruit-flavored water and talking for several hours. My friend commented a few times that she seldom simply sits and enjoys her garden, instead spending time weeding or pruning and doing other tasks. Rarely does she take the time to simply be, feeling the air, watching the clouds, listening to the wind, the birds, the insects, the planes overhead and the passing trains, distant but audible.
Rest and relaxation are often perceived as idleness (which is seen as negative) in this culture based on our heritage of a long-ago Puritan work ethic. We often feel guilty if we simply sit and do nothing but BE. Enjoying the moment, the delicious feel of the air, the sun, the wind are simple pleasures that we seldom allow ourselves. Or if we begin to feel them, we may become restless ( an interesting word if dissected!) or anxious and want to return to doing something.
Can you allow yourself today, even 5 minutes of simply feeling what is, of simply being and experiencing the sun, the air, the sounds, the sights, of simply taking in what is? I guarantee you will feel refreshed and renewed!
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley