I have recently been thrown into a situation where I am obligated to stay home, sit quietly, sleep a lot, and let go of the need to do it all, fix everything, and be superwoman. Needless to say, it has been hard for me to see this as a blessing… BUT IT IS. It is a blessing, really. A gift to have time to be present without expectations about all of the things I could/would/should be doing.
We as humans tend to get into situations where we are in over our heads. We are often doing too much, and for too many different people. I hear this the most often from parents, but also from teachers, healers, people with aging parents, and many others in our modern society. We know that we are overstretched, but when people ask for our help we feel guilty so we say yes anyway. Or we are obligated by family ties or other circumstances, and feel that saying no is actually not an option. We worry about letting others down, or think that if we don’t handle it, no one will.
I know that you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Taking on more than you can handle does not serve anyone. Really. We’ve all heard it… you have to put your own oxygen mask on before helping the person sitting next to you. It drains us when we try to do too much, and ultimately, it doesn’t help the people we are trying to serve nearly as much as if we had taken care of ourselves first. We end up overstretched, burnt out, and without the time to really do any of the things well.
So yes, in my case, being forced to sit still and do less actually is a blessing. And it’s easy for me to say, now, while I’m sitting at home recuperating: “Everyone, just relax a little.” But I know that in normal circumstances when the demands of life are so pressing, it is hard to stop and just say “no.” Even harder, is learning how to do this without feeling guilt about it.
I think one of the keys is to do fewer things but do them well. Can we learn to work deeper rather than broader? Instead of giving more, can we give fully? And can we give from a place of being, from a profound sense of self, rather than from a need to react to external circumstances? Are these skills that we can cultivate? I think maybe that they are.
How? It starts with Intention.
- Prioritize. Really look at all the obligations, all the activities that make up your life and take up your time. Write them down. Then ask yourself these questions:
- Which of these activities make my heart sing? Make me feel good in mind, body, and soul?
- Which benefit my loved ones?
- What gives back to my community in a way that is meaningful?
- And which, simply, just have to be done regardless of whether they meet any of the other criteria?
- When you answer these questions honestly, ask yourself if there is just 1 obligation or activity that can be weeded out, just for the short term. Can you delegate? Is there a carpool, a neighbor, or a coworker who can take one of these off of your plate? Or an activity that just isn’t enhancing your life that can simply be cut out?
- Once you have selected one, did you just feel a sigh of relief? Or a momentary sense of panic at giving up control of that thing? No worries, just note that feeling.
- With one less item on your plate, can you go deeper in one of your other, chosen, areas?
- I find that sometimes the feeling of rushing from one thing to another can dissipate, at least for a time, when I truly sink in, deeply, into the activity at hand; into the present moment. The activities on the list that you kept, they are important to you. Remind yourself of this WHILE you are doing them. This was chosen, for a reason. And in that, give it the whole of your attention for the time that you have.
Once a day, whether during your seated meditation practice, in a moment of gratitude before a meal, or simply when walking from your car to the door of your workplace, take a brief moment to close your eyes and repeat to yourself “I Am” or “so hum.” I am here. I am now. I am this. I am me. I AM. Allow this thought, this mantra, to resonate through you, reminding you that, ultimately, life is not about how much you do or how much you give, but simply about being.