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,

 

 

 

 

 

How I Gave Up My Home and Found Freedom

NOTE: This essay was first published just after I moved in with the woman who is now my wife. I wrote it in May, 2015, and I think it’s a perfect reflection on what my life was like then … still, quiet, and waiting to begin again.

I just moved again. Only this time … I’ve finally come home.

Since my daughter died and my one-time life fell apart in 2012, my undulating path has led me ever forward.

Again and again I’ve been called to up-level who I am, what I do … and even where I live. Challenges have abounded. Wild waters have had to be crossed. Yet I have persisted. And now, finally, I am thriving.

Oddly, I followed the path that Teal, herself, followed just before her death. Here’s how it went.

A few months prior to Teal’s death I gave up my apartment in San Francisco and moved in with a lover. The relationship ended shortly after I arrived … and so I found myself without a home. A nester by nature, I always held having no home as certain death. This was literally my worst fear as a small child.

Yet somehow, this time I rose above it and did something radical.

I dumped my stuff in storage, packed a few lean bags and went off to find myself.

“Nice,” said Teal approvingly. She, herself, had just landed in an apartment after six months of couch surfing with friends, preceded by six months of backpacking around the world. “I don’t really need a home,” she explained lightly.

At the time I didn’t get it, but now I do. Completely.

Home is our tether to who we are – which for me was a rigid identity, forged in the crucible of a dysfunctional childhood. But now I was being called to let go and head for the unknown.

In fact, in my homeless state, I was searching for the supreme ideal that formed every moment of Teal’s life: freedom.

So it was that I wandered here and there.

I spent a memorable month sleeping under the stars at a hot springs filled with gentle, naked Californians. Then I travelled, visiting friends and traveled here and there around the US and Canada. I was subletting a home in a small women’s commune in the wine country when Teal died.

With her death came a new level of surrender. Having a real home now suddenly seemed out of the question. I wanted nothing more than to drift.

I found my way to a small, safe cocoon – a sunny bedroom in Petaluma, a sweet little town north of San Francisco. My housemates were funny, interesting, and forgiving of my frequent need to disappear and cry.

My identity continued to disintegrate.

It began to dawn on me that I was no longer capable of doing the business coaching that had sustained me for the last decade. Really all I could do at this point was drink tea and write, with a long-haired cat tucked by my side. Then my aging, infirm mother died and so I received a modest inheritance.

This time I packed up and moved to Paris for two months. Here I could let go of the last vestiges of the compressed, anxious high achiever I’d become. A room for a mere 20 euros a night landed in my lap. So I walked through Paris every day for hours. I made friends, bought groceries among the Parisians and practiced my French with everyone who would let me. I pretended for a while that Paris was my home.

When I finally came home, I was relaxed, centered, newly grounded. Just as Teal was when she returned from her own wandering travels in Europe and Asia.

At this point, it was sixteen months after Teal’s death. I was ready to emerge … somewhat. But only in the safest and tenderest of ways.

It was at this moment that a kind, loving old friend invited me to live with her. Now I found myself in yet another new town – Sebastopol, known for its hippie bus mindset and chill vibe. Here I found my yogi, a kind and guided soul who introduced me to another of Teal’s loves: goddess spirituality.

Every time I went to Kashi’s studio and practiced the gentle, healing yoga she taught, I felt another part of my heart open and let go. It was here that I became fully, completely surrendered on the path.

In Sebastopol, I set up the tiniest of roots. I rented a small office and created an altar, which I lit with electric candles and strewed with rose petals. Regularly, Teal and the goddesses would drop in and advise me.

For another sixteen months I dissolved back to a new layer of calm, and simple Me-ness. I gave up trying to make money and within a few months a paying gig writing novels came my way. Everything I needed simply kept showing up, again and again.

During this time I stopped striving and as I did, the best thing of all happened: I fell in love.

Now I live with my love, and slowly the foundation of our new life is being built. My storage unit is getting emptier and emptier as I let go of no-longer-needed pieces of my past. And each day we knit ourselves together on the soul path we agreed to an eternity ago.

In my new life, I am finally free. My self-imposed prison is gone. The need to suffer has lifted. The relentless perfectionist has been silenced, and the little girl who lives inside of me has been liberated.

I find myself now with a new and gleaming path ahead, not to mention a home. Every inch of it is informed by my three years of wandering and living like Teal did …

In wonder, grace and curiosity, simply waiting to see what would happen next.

If you want to learn more stories about letting go, you might love my latest podcast, A Master Conversation About Letting Go with Timber Hawkeye. 

 

 

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

The Secret to Relaxing About Life

There is a strange paradox about life. Seldom is the one we are living the life we think we should be living. 

Somehow we can never get quite enough money, or power or titles or sex or adventures or love or anything to truly feel we’ve got our share. Like hungry birds in their nests, our beaks are always open, demanding yet another worm. There is always some better position, some higher level of responsibility, some more exalted realm we think should be ours.

At least, this much has been true for me … until recently.

Not only have I consistently believed throughout my life that I didn’t have ‘enough’, I believed that I wasn’t enough either. I honestly thought that if I got that million dollar book deal/perfect body/perfect … whatever … then I’d finally be whole and complete.

Then I could relax! Then I could be happy! I could stop pushing so hard and endlessly striving. Then, in the eyes of the Universe, Mom, and everyone else I would finally be enough. Or so I thought.

It was only recently, at the ripe old age of 58, that I finally decided to let go of this toxic illusion. This, right here and right now, is the life I’ve been given. And this, right here and right now, is as good as it gets.

What happened was that I was standing in our church singing in one of our annual concert, singing my heart out with my fellow choir singers. There was nothing slick or high visibility about the event. The audience was peppered with families and dotted with unruly kids and crying babies. Heck, we barely had microphones.

And there was nothing slick about my life. My work continues along on a humble path. There is no massive book deal, no high visibility position, none of the things that I’d always imagined would make me happy.

But in that moment as I looked out over the crowd and sang, delivering my gift for that particular moment, I felt intensely bonded to each person sitting there. I could feel the love rising in the room, and the slightly sweaty, restless-child imperfection of all of it at the same time.

It was spectacularly beautiful.

These were my people, I thought to myself, and I am in exactly the right place doing the right thing at the right time. On the other side of the choir, my new wife Rachel was singing in the tenor section. We were experiencing the uplift of the music together, as our choir director beamed his approval.

Simply put, we were one with the audience, with each other and all the good and caring musicians around us.

That’s when I understood, unequivocally, this is as good as it gets.

And that’s when I saw a grand illusion that my long held dream has been. As long as I quantify my life by many book deals, or income hikes, or vacations, or … whatever … I receive, there will probably never be “enough.” Not in this congested, tired little mind.

Furthermore, I will miss the deep and beautiful treasure of the life that’s happening here and now.

I realize now that it’s okay to have dreams and goals as long as they are accompanied by an intense sense of gratitude for what is present now. As long as I don’t reject the reality of the present moment for some cherished illusion in my mind – because that illusion has no substance.

Down here, in the thick of life, only one thing counts and that is tapping into the love that is here and now, in this present moment. And then being grateful as we gaze ahead, ready to be surprised by life.

Wherever you are and may you know that, today, right here and right now, you are enough.

 

 

 

P.S.

On my Before the Afterlife podcastTony talks about maintaining a zestful life, and what his ‘magic bullet’ is for Emergency Zest as needed… check it out here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find this episode below, or subscribe with any podcast player.

Here are the links to iTunes and Google Play!

 

 

What If You Can’t Hear Your Heart’s Desire?

It is said that the greatest guide to living a prosperous, happy life of love is to listen to your heart.

Just follow its guidance and you’ll be all set. At least that is the conventional wisdom that drives us to eschew the ordinary life and set off on the road less traveled.

And yet … there seems to be a design flaw.

I don’t know about you, but I have one hell of a time hearing my heart. I know its wisdom is back there somewhere. But it’s lodged behind the ranting of my incessant, worried mind, a million to-do’s, and a cacophony of mid-life emotions.

It’s also buried behind the subtle over-layer of apps, texts, emails, phone calls, appointments, traffic jams, calories, doctor appointments, instant messages, chats, whether to eat chocolate or not, and the frenetic microcosm of social media.

Bottom line: I can’t frigging hear my heart!

And yet … I know if I just stop and listen, like really stop and listen, I can hear it.

The fact is I don’t want to listen.

My heart will tell me that my constant ‘doing’ must end. That I must be willing to let go and hang out with the mystery of life for a while.

If I really want to feel my feelings, I must stop being so busy-busy-busy.

My heart will say that far more urgent than anything on my ‘must do’ list is my own – our own – continued healing.

Many of us are all in a state of subtle emergency most of the time. But we proceed as if this is the human condition. And yet … it’s not.

Underneath all the furor of modern life, we are calmly rational. Furthermore, we know exactly what to do at any given moment. In fact, our nervous system is always ready to chime in with its intuitive hit to set us straight. But really … we just can’t bear to hear it.

Then change might be required. Change for which we feel ill prepared. Change that might lead us to failure.

At least that’s what the ego thinks in its protective, if misguided way.

So we hang out in vagueness … longing for something … but unable to say exactly what.

 I have been quietly learning that I have no choice. If I want to be happy, I have to follow the directions of my heart whether I like it or not. Really, my heart’s the only sane driver on board.

Because when I slow down long enough to listen, life calms down. Then my faith returns and I remember I’m not alone. Instantly, I feel stronger, wiser. And somehow, I know what to do.

Bear in mind this: your heart will not ever try to set you off course. Nor will your heart ever try to hurt another. Instead, it only wants to lovingly steer you onward to become your best, every day.

That’s all that happens when you make enough time, and create enough peace, to finally listen.

What is your heart trying to tell you today that you may be avoiding?

You can find this episode below, or subscribe with any podcast player.

Here are the links to iTunes and Google Play!

 

 

How to Stop Living in the Land of ‘Should’

Mute swan Cygnus olor gliding across a mist covered lake at dawnOne of the big illusions about life is that somewhere out there … it’s better. Someone other than me is working harder, delighting more readers, and generally looking a lot hotter.

And so, presumably, they are on track to be the so-called winner. Maybe they even get to take home a big stuffed bear.

A part of our brain often gets fixated on how our lives should be … as opposed to how perfectly satisfying and wonderful they are right here and right now.

My friend Jon calls this sad habit ‘shoulding on yourself’.

As in ‘I should be working 50 hours weeks building my empire,’ or ‘I should have a massive list by now’. And let’s not forget that perennial favorite, ‘I should be ten pounds thinner.’

If you’re like me, you slip into shoulding without even thinking about it. I notice I get particularly should-y when thinking about my work, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. And no matter what’s going on in my life.

For instance, in five days, I’m getting married. These are the days of wine and roses, right? Yet my mind has been squarely parked on how much work I could cram in before the guests start arriving … purely out of should-i-ness.

Have I been getting all that  work done? Not really. I’m too distracted! I want to take a champagne bath, and try on my wedding ring fifteen more times. I want to call all the family and friends who are showing up for the big day.

I want to hold my love and look dreamily in her eyes. I want to lie around and think about this big, gorgeous step I’m taking, savoring every minute of these pre-wedding days.

Which I would do … except for that old taskmaster, Should, in my head. Silently, she taps her stick against her hand and regards me with dismay.

Here’s the supreme irony of it all. We don’t actually get that much done when we are being ‘shouldy’. We’re much more likely to really rock the results when we let go completely and honor what’s happening here and now.

Jon, who is a very wise soul, reminds me that even a state of inertia can be God’s will for us. After all, God’s not standing around, impatiently waiting for results.

Instead, God, or the Universe, or Spirit (or whomever you recognize that great guiding Force to be), invites us all to let go and slide into the slipstream of love. Here we flow from one task to the next, effortlessly.

Here we let go and surrender and find our way to whatever would feel right next. So instead of a ‘To Do’ list we keep a ‘Why Not?’ list.

Why not take a walk and watch the clouds for as long as you want? Maybe inspiration will descend. And maybe it won’t …

Why not call someone you love and tell them so for no good reason. Then perhaps your heart will expand just a little more greatly. Or someone else’s will.

Or why not take a chance and submit a story to that hot media outlet you’ve been craving because suddenly … it just feels right?

That’s flow, baby. I highly recommend inviting it into your life.

When we get ball-and-chained to our To Do lists, there is no room to breathe and we forget the very core of our aliveness. This is how we get so very, very tired. We can’t keep up, and the strategies we’ve invested our time, our money, and our belief in begin to crumble.

This is when the ‘shoulds’ begin in earnest. And rightly so because (gasp!) we are behind. And we know in our hearts we will never catch up.

This is how we wind up soundly parked in self-doubt. Which is exactly where I was when I spoke to my friend Jon. I needed to hear him say that that there is no ‘there’ there. There really is nothing to push towards.

There is only the here and now, one beautiful day at a time.

May you join me in embracing what is true right now, for all of its warts, bumps and obvious gaps. This, too, is God’s will … just as you are.

You have been given a sacred job of simply being, my friend. So the question remains: is that good enough for you?

Me? I say yes!

Why not you, too?