10 Ways to Stop Being ‘Insanely Busy’

Today’s episode is all about taking a break from the grind, whether that’s a much needed lunch break of the 10-month sabbatical my guest managed to take. Rest has been proven again and again to increase our well-being dramatically … and yet, we don’t do it.
Here’s a reprint of my post popular article on this subject. I’m running it while I’m on a vacation in France getting my own rest. I hope you find it valuable!

If you’re like many of us, you work 50-60 hours in an office. Or you take work home, work on weekends — and try to juggle the rest of life as well. It gets overwhelming, doesn’t it?
That plus the ever present demands of children, ageing parents, and community sends us over the edge. No wonder we get mired in self-talk about the impossibility of work-life balance. But here’s the thing …
 Would you unplug if you could?

Often we get lulled into thinking we have no choice. We believe we have to overwork in order to succeed, in order to be viable. We believe we have to suffer to be whole.
For one week why not try some of these unplugging ideas as an experiment in self-care? You’ll find out exactly how willing you are to stop being so busy. And you may just find your way back to greater peace.
1. Begin to breathe. Take five minutes at the start of each day – before you even reach for your phone. Sit up, get comfortable, and simply breathe with your eyes closed. Follow your breath in and out. Just observe it. Let your mind go crazy but keep coming back to your breath. Do this every day for one week, and then notice. Are you starting to feel calmer?

2. Forgive those who anger you. Easier said than done, perhaps. Take at least thirty minutes of quiet time on a lunch hour to write out all of your resentments towards a particular person. Write it all down. Eventually, you will get to the end. And there you will naturally find forgiveness – which feels so much better. (If you think you don’t have 30 minutes, what can you change so you actually do that have that time? Reminder: We all deserve an hour off at lunch.)

3. Acknowledge yourself. When is the last time you tuned into your inner conversation about yourself? It’s there – trust me. Consider adding some kind words or a little pep talk each day when you’re taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Picking a regular time seems to help.

4. Take back lunch. If you work through lunch, stop immediately. You need this break. Really! Allow yourself to shut your door and relax. Bring your lunch to work and find something fun to do with this precious hour. Read a juicy novel. Knit. Take a walk. Bring an instrument and consider starting an office jam session. (I once witnessed this in an award winning Swedish ad agency!) This step, alone, could start a small revolution … and such truly alternative ‘brain breaks’ have been proven to increase overall effectiveness in work.

5. Turn off the ringer and all notifications on your phone. Let your phone fade into the background. Check it sporadically … you can do it! You’ll find you become more present, more relaxed. And far more inspired. If your boss demands you keep it on, simply smile and keep setting that firm, polite boundary. This is restorative time that allows you to work more efficiently in the afternoon.

6. Turn off your phone at lunch. Just try this for one week, even if it feels incredibly uncomfortable. You will find that what once seemed incredibly important isn’t so crucial now. And so balance returns.

7. Start to walk places – or ride a bike. This is a good one if you can’t make time to exercise. If your daily commute is filled with traffic, get around it hopping on a bike. If that’s not practical, outfit your bike with a basket or panniers and do your errands this way. Or carry a small backpack and walk. The natural endorphins you’ll experience may make this irresistible.

8. Take a nap. Insane right? Au contraire. According to The National Sleep Foundation, a 20-30 minute nap will leave you far more alert and better able to perform, without grogginess. Try to find a place at work to curl up – read a great book called Take a Nap; Change Your Life  for inspiration.

9. Find a buddy. Making changes in old habits and mindsets requires support. Find at least one good pal you can call as you travel new roads. Check in each day by phone or email on how this slowing, calming process is working for you.

10. Ask yourself what you need … then provide it. So often we put ourselves last in the rush to please others and get ahead. But our needs never stop. Get in the habit of asking yourself several times per day what you need. Take the first answer you get, even if you don’t like it. It’s okay … you really can trust yourself to know the truth.

Remember, you were designed to be whole and complete — without overwork or stress of any kind. And you can get back to that sweet place by simply allowing yourself to unfold a little.

Please feel free to listen to my podcast, Before the Afterlife, where I interviewed Linda Claire Puig about How to Go On a Magical Sabbatical, See the World and Change Your Life.

Also, please share with me your own ideas about how you avoid being ‘insanely busy’.

I’d love to hear from you,

 

 

 

 

 

Are You a Wounded Decision Maker?

Throughout most of my life, I made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turned out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist. And working there was hell.

At the same time, I ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for. He was fun, engaging and swept every awards show. But I blew off his entreaty.

Why?
Because I had no idea what I was doing. Blithely, I assumed I should just go on instincts, so I made a very bad choice.

The bottom line was that I didn’t know how to ask for help. Nor did I even know I needed help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I discovered I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection.  I dove headfirst into a love affair with an unstable person.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“You’re scaring me,” he said. But I ignored him.

After all, I always knew the correct answer … right?

Wrong.

Only in the last several years have I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It feels like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. So I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsive overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, and run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from snuffing out my pain with an impulse to buy a painting I couldn’t afford.

In the end, each choice I’ve made has always been mine. But I’ve learned to make them with eyes open and all the options on the table.

In this way, conscious decision-making has saved my bacon many times in recent years.

Here’s the part I really love: this Zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off!

Especially when I regard each decision as an experiment – one that may work beautifully, or, instead, become a ‘learning experience.’

No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

Instead, now I can take my own sweet time. I can decide when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am now married to is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s not interested in seizing every opportunity, but instead, in exploring the potential downsides as well.

She takes her time, and she is teaching me to do so, too’.

At times, it’s still uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush sometimes beckon.

But I stop to reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

The world will not end tomorrow if we don’t act today. We can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly.

If you like this conversation about how to avoid making knee-jerk reactions, you might love my latest podcast with Chel Hamilton. She has a lot to say about overcoming ‘knee-jerkery’.

How to Stop Trying to Get Meditation ‘Right͛’ … and Just Relax

I used to be a really busy meditator. You know the type.

I could barely sit still because I was so busy feeling my divine energy consume my body, moving me this way and that. Or I was constantly opening my eyes, focusing on this timer or that crystal to keep my meditation ‘on track’ and perfect. Or maybe I was working on memorizing some really long, complicated mantra while I meditated.

Who had time to just become empty and still?

I didn’t. I was too busy getting my meditation ‘right’ to actually relax.

But that was before I discovered the true, messy imperfection of meditation. In its simplest state meditation isn’t anything in particular, other than stilling the mind. And that’s hard to do … hence the plethora of meditation tools, apps, props, supports, recordings, mantras, breathing practices and experts. All of which want us to get meditation ‘right’.

But what if there was no right way to meditate?

Only now, nearly 35 years after I began meditating, do I appreciate the value of letting my mind roam as it must. When I notice it, I gently steering it back towards nothingness. That’s all I need to do, it turns out. Just kindly return myself back towards nothing again … and again … and again … and again …

When I do this, and my timer rings at the end of fifteen minutes, I find myself calmer than I was before. I’m refreshed. Ready to move into my day. That’s what meditation does for me, and its benefits are subtle and deep.

I notice, for instance, that I’ve lost my old love for drama. Over time, meditation makes the mind lose its tolerance for chaos and chaotic people. Likewise, you lose your interest in that which grates. Instead, you become remarkably kind to yourself.
Now, when I make a mistake, I find I no longer chide myself. Instead, I remind myself that life is just this really big experiment. If I get it wrong, that’s okay. Maybe I’ll get it right next time … or maybe I won’t.

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter.

Really.

That’s the big thing I’ve gotten from meditation. As the hours slip by, day by day, and your tolerance for pure nothingness increases, you can’t help but embrace the now. For that’s really all we have, isn’t it?

Right here, right now, in all of its unvarnished glory.

Mind you, I’m anything but perfect on this count. I find myself planning and strategizing as if I could personally plot out every twist and turn in my future. But I can’t. Wordlessly, meditation reminds me of this truth again and again, without even trying.

But then, sometimes, things happen. Unbidden, sudden insights can drop in when you’re meditating, yet you can’t go looking for them.

Instead, your only job is to relax … and empty your mind … and let go.

In 2010, Teal wrote in her journal about her own meditation practice, and I think this passage sums up this phenomenon nicely. She wrote it while she was backpacking her way through the world, one day at a time. On this particular afternoon, she happened to be in Italy.

On my way back I saw this cemetery … It was white marble and really amazing … overlooking the sea, cliffs, mountains, and towns. So I chose to sit down there and meditate and I got: ‘Go to Thailand, open your heart, open your soul and be.’

“The whole ‘be’ thing really made an impact on me. I realized in life I am never really there. I tend to be thinking about the future or past or something someone said instead of being in the moment, and taking it in for all its beauty. 

After this meditation, I knew I had been transformed because I looked out over the ocean and mountain scene in front of me and I started to cry. I was really able to take it all in and I finally realized how blessed I am to be here, and how many beautiful things there are here.”

When you can finally let go and embrace nothingness, it seems the entire world opens up to you. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Because the finding of serenity, of peace, of true freedom, comes not from getting or seizing anything.

True peace is found only by letting go.

If you’re interested in learning more about meditation, you might enjoy this week’s podcast with hypnotist Chel Hamilton as she talks about teaching meditation and what it does for the brain. It’s like ‘mind floss’ she says, and I agree. 

You can find the recording here

What’s on the Other Side of Letting Go? It’s Flow, Baby!

Once you do the hard work of letting go, an interesting thing starts to happen. You find yourself with nothing much to worry about.

There is palpable peace there, if you allow it. All you have to do is tune into the small, quiet frequency that lies just below the hectic pace of everyday life. You know this place … it’s just beyond the to-do lists, and multi-tasking and the worried sense that you’re not doing enough.

It’s that lovely, floaty place you arrive at when you’ve been meditating for a while. You’re calm, clear headed and you have no particular place to get to in that moment.

Instead, you allow yourself, for once, to be in flow.

Now, flow is a very powerful state of Grace. Flow is what brings miracles to your door, unbidden. It’s what allows you to walk down the street and bump into the very person you were just thinking about.

Flow is also the stuff your dreams are made of.

Once you make the break – whatever it may be – and let go of the all-wrong situation you’ve been anxiously clinging to, space in your psyche opens up. Your soul relaxes. Your heart expands.

You may even feel like humming or skipping a little. (Go ahead … it’s actually kind of fun!)

Once you find yourself in flow, each day can take on an organic design of its own, no matter what you are up to. So instead of sitting down to a rigid, even overwhelming list of To-Do’s,throw them out. Instead, just sit quietly at your desk for a moment and feel what your heart wants you to do next, and next, and next.

Then do it. You may notice a certain ease or lightness, or a sudden, remarkable passage of time as you dig in productively.

Even if your beautifully in-flow work occasionally requires you to do something you’d rather not, like attend a tedious meeting, you can still be in flow. Just ask that glorious state of flow to accompany you to the meeting and inform your presence there. Let it move you to contribute in the most beneficial way you can.

Ideas may pop up out of nowhere, and agreements made that are simply easy. Flow is always marked by ease and a marked lack of ‘doing’. Things just show up, again and again, and they are always in harmony with what you want and need.

However, be aware that the state of flow resists certain situations.

If you cling to a job that is 100% wrong for you or a relationship that’s a struggle, flow will disappear the moment you step through that door.

Flow also disappears when you watch it too closely, or cling to it too needily. You can’t shut your eyes, cross your fingers and hope for flow with all your heart. Instead, you must invite it in gently, graciously and without attachment. And then go about your business until it arrives. Only then can it do its magic.

Flow sometimes takes its own sweet time about showing up, which is its privilege. It will come when it, and you, are both ready.

Most of all, the state of flow is marked by desire. Whatever you desire from moment to moment will guide you most effectively to the state of flow. You simply have to be quiet to know what that is … then follow the directions that well up from your heart.

Try it right now. What is it that you desire most right now?

Perhaps a gluten free chocolate fudge tart? Okay, why not? Go get one … and chances are while you’re walking down to the corner to get your tart, you will see something that will inspire a great idea. Or maybe you’ll have a chance encounter with someone you need to meet.

Or maybe you’ll just have an utterly fantastic chocolate moment. Thus becoming prepared more completely for your next moment, and the next one after that.

I invite you to delve into flow and let the rapture of it sweep you away. You will not dissolve, and you will probably be surprised how much you’ll actually accomplish.

This is what life looks like on the other side of all that clinging and grasping that makes us suffer. It’s free, easy and remarkably simple. And yeah … it’s bliss.

Why not give it a try?

Want to learn more about Suzanne’s healing approach to life? Listen to her Before the Afterlife Podcast on iTunes.

What a Dead Cat Taught Me About Compassion

551828_331722296896983_938964339_nI don’t know about you, but a whole lot of the time, I lack compassion. It’s what we overstuffed Americans do, generally speaking.

Yeah, I go to church on Sundays. I meditate with the best of them. I have given hundreds of dollars  to addicts with rain-soaked cardboard signs on street corners in Oakland.

But I still don’t know what it is to be compassionate … not really. I contend that in the Western world, we spend our lifetimes unlearning the innate compassion we are born with as babies.

Compassion is that ability to feel another’s pain, to know their suffering and to surrender to your own inclinations to give and give generously. We’re hard wired to do this — but it’s hard to get to if you’re squarely focused on yourself.

Several thousand times I’ve had the thought that I need to go teach incarcerated kids about writing. But have I?

No.

Last summer I attended Anna Deavere Smith’s inspiring performance, Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. In the piece, Anna shared the various arguments to feed the school-to-prison pipeline for young African-American men in America.

During the show, there were two workshop-style breaks. Here small groups of audience members could brainstorm with a facilitator about how they could serve this high need population. At the end came a list of organizations who needed volunteers.

I leapt in eagerly. The next day I began the conversation with a local librarian who connects juvenile offenders with writers.

“Call me,” she exhorted.

I promised I would … but I didn’t.

Why?

Call it fear — fear of feeling vulnerable in front of a tough audience. Fear that I won’t say the right things, and make no difference at all. Even the fear my car would be broken in to.

But then there was the worst fear of all: my fear of being moved.

Oh, I told myself I was too busy to volunteer, but you and I know the real reason. It was the fear that got me. Underneath all of our accomplishment, our busy-ness and our day-to-day struggles, we are tender people. We feel each other so deeply, that it truly hurts to know another’s pain.

I have touched into that place from time to time in my life. Most memorably, perhaps, when I struck and killed a cat one night while driving on a rural road.

There was one house nearby, and I knocked on the door, the now dead cat in my arms. An elderly woman opened it.

I burst into tears, unable to say anything.

She looked at me and her dead cat, and she shook her head slowly. Stroking the cat, she said in the gentlest of voices, “So is this how you will go, old friend?”

Together we brought the cat in and lay its body down in the living room. She invited me to sit for a moment while I dried my tears. I explained the circumstances — that the cat darted out from a hedge just as I was passing by.

I was a teary mess throughout the conversation until finally I knew I had to leave.

“It’s okay,” she said evenly. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“No, nothing,” I affirmed. She patted my arm and we hugged. I was so moved by the old woman’s incredible grace and love.

Recently I read through my daughter’s posts on Facebook from the last year of her life. Scrolling down I was reminded how Teal embodied compassion. Nearly all of her posts were greetings to other people: encouragement, birthday wishes, exhorts to go have some fun together.

Then there was this shared quotation, paired with the picture above:

“When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.”

~ A Course in Miracles

What Teal understood so clearly through her whole life, and particularly in that last year and a half, was the incredible importance of people.

Just … people.

We are each other’s keepers, whether we know it or not. We will shape each other’s destinies, and open or close the abundant faucets of love. We will teach each other profound lessons, and inflict pain that is often life changing — even if we are capable of far better.

When we allow our love to be freely given, especially to those whom we would never ordinarily know, we love ourselves just a little more. This is why it feels so good to give abundantly.

In the course of writing this essay, I went back and found the email I had written to the librarian who works with incarcerated kids. Her number is now on my to-do list again … and this time I’m going to call her.

Once again I’m filled with hope that my love might overflow into someone else’s life, and I may do just a small bit of good in the world.

It feels good to love people again.

I am grateful for the chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Stopped Being a Wounded Decision Maker

CrossroadsNearly my entire life, I’ve made decisions based on one thing: how I felt in the moment.

Turns out to be a bad idea.

Back in my early twenties, when I was starting out as an advertising copywriter, I chose to work for an abusive jerk in one of the most notorious hack agencies in New York. It was the place that invented that American icon, Madge the Manicurist.

I also ignored an invitation to interview with Ed McCabe, the grand circus master of creative boutique agencies. He was the guy every young writer wanted to work for, but I blew off his entreaty.

Why?

I didn’t know how to ask for help.

At age 20, I thought I knew all the answers — I didn’t need no help, no how. “All ad agencies are alike,” I told myself, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. So I chose rashly, with no preparation.

Thirty-two years later, I was still making the same mistake. Fresh out of a 25-year marriage and newly out as a lesbian, I was in no mood for circumspection. I dove headfirst into a love affair with a rank abuser.

A month later I came to my senses and walked away – only to return to her a month later on an impulse. A friend at the time advised me against it.

“That scares me,” he said. But I ignored him. After all, I always knew the right answer … right?

Wrong.

In recent years I learned to make decisions slowly and with a great deal of thought. The bigger the decision, the more thought goes into it. It’s starting to feel like an act of Grace.

Conscious decision-making has taught me that I am not alone. That it’s best to get feedback from trusted friends. I’ve come to think of these wonderful advisers as my personal ‘board of directors.’

Friends talked me off the cliff of compulsively overwork when it was time grieve my daughter’s death. Others advised me to walk away from a potential abusive relationship, which allowed me to run towards the woman I was really suited to.

Still others kept me from blowing a chunk of my retirement fund on a painting I adored but really couldn’t afford.

In the end, the choice has always been mine, but I made it with eyes open and all the options on the table. So conscious decision-making has saved my bacon again and again.

Here’s the part I really love: this zen-like approach to decision making is fun. The pressure is off. No longer must I be the swashbuckling hero of the moment, swooping in to make a big decision with no forethought or research. No longer must I save the day the way I used to as a child in an alcoholic family.

I can take my own sweet time. I can make my choice when I’m damn good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

Not surprisingly, the woman I am partnered with now is a beautiful decision maker. She vets every choice thoroughly, turning it over from all angles. She’s truly open to not seizing every opportunity, but exploring the downsides as well.

Still, at times, it can uncomfortable to peel myself away from a rash decision. The old buzz of pheromones and the thrill of the adrenal rush still beckon.

But I’ve learned to stop and reflect before I choose. Because I know that on the other side is excellent self care, which is far more sustainable than the sugar rush of a fast choice.

Do I still honor my instincts? Absolutely. It’s just that now I know how to sit with them.

My big takeaway is this: The world will not end tomorrow if I don’t act today. Turns out you and I can act in good time, slowly and consciously, and so enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction from a decision well made.

May you choose well and slowly, my friend.

Hell, you may even find it fun!