“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist…most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” — Thomas Merton
At this time last year I was in Marathon, Florida Keys, sunshine every day, manatees, big water, lots of lazy days sailing around the little islands and biking through markets, hiking state parks and generally living a semi-retired life-style. Good technology and broadband internet allowed me to meet with clients, manage a yoga studio and run online sessions for our ongoing yoga teacher training program from the marina. Today, is 5am and I am up to work on a blog post for our website that will be used for social media and hopefully engage you in a little deep thinking about “busy”. The past year I have been sitting in my sun porch in beautiful Southern Ontario working 12-16-hour days 7 days a week to ensure that my semi-retired lifestyle stays in place after COVID19.
When we closed last March I truly believed we were closing for 2 weeks, HA! Here we are almost a year later. I have said yes to every opportunity that has come my way and most of it without a pay cheque. Happy to just make sure that the business survives. This was supposed to be a year of scaling up the business. Instead it has been this rare opportunity to pivot the business and build our online presence and connect with more people around the world. I am energized by working with people and while zoom is a poor substitute for real connection, it is far better than the alternative for me.
A couple of weird developments. Have you ever been so busy and deep in thought, process, creating, making that at 10:40am you know you have a meeting at 11:00am on your computer and you are sitting at your computer and you look up at 11:07 and realize, F…@…(….K you are late for the meeting? How is that possible? Time disappeared and I went down a rabbit hole and my internal alarm did not go off and I zoned on the zoom. Where does the time go, I have to work hard sometimes to figure out what day of the week it is. They are all blurring together.
I find it totally bizarre that I can sometimes look up at 11:00am and realize I have not had breakfast yet. My mind rationalizes and I congratulate myself on fasting for 17 hours. I like to work. I love what I do. I love learning about how to do it better. I love learning about how to be a better business woman. I enjoy networking. I am a work-a-holic and I need a meeting, but I don’t have time. I also love to cook, ski, read, be outside and talk/listen deeply to friends and family. It is hard to imagine that I have not got time to sit and have a conversation with my cousin, step-father or friends.
It’s not even that there are people or organizations trying to book me to do things, it is me. I am reaching out and making connections and committing to do more than necessary at this time and giving away my time and energy as if it is a bottomless resource.
Many of us pride ourselves on the ability to handle a crisis. We like our adrenaline fixes. We create an environment with there are constant deadlines, competitive situations and wait till the deadline is nye to work on projects because we like feeling in the moment, the rush of getting it done, meeting the deadline, crossing the finish line. The challenge with this habitual pattern is that it is like living life as if it is a 100-meter dash.
As I contemplate how I want the next year to go, I find I am back in the familiar place of thinking about why I am so prone to over commitment. What is at the base of the addiction to “busy”. I tell myself that it is my enthusiasm for life. I rationalize that it is my high standards. But, during a particularly useful mentor session, my mentor suggested that maybe I just like to work. I realized that I resonated with that observation but why do I like to work and work so much led to much deeper realization that I work for the praise. I have been working since I was 13 years old. I took care of my family when I was a child and I never stopped. I realized that the hungry ghost inside of me is looking for a pat on the back, a few kind words, to feel needed. I have always got this through hard work. I was never taught to say no, except to fun.
Many years ago, I read Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ. Goleman suggests that emotional intelligence is a stronger indicator of success than IQ and includes self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy and the ability to love and be loved. This book suggested that I look at the why rather than the what. Facing up to my core issues and tuning into my emotional intelligence is key to breaking the habit of over-commitment. I believed then and now that I have strong EQ maybe stronger than IQ but I often forget to apply and turn that empathy towards myself. Can we get an AMEN here.
Overdoing for others can be a sign of failure to love self. Time to sit and evaluate the day, the week, the month, this next year. It is a very different time, a time like no other in history. How can I stay true to my Dharma and true self and serve others in a way that does not lead me to fatigue, illness and resentment? All indicators that I am giving something that I don’t want to give. So far this year, healthy, happy, loving. When COVID started, I decided then and there that I would keep my nose down and work. That I wanted to be part of the solution and to keep my glass half full attitude and be a rock in a hard time. I fully embrace this part of my nature and I choose to not feel guilty when the people around me cannot keep up, don’t want to keep up and need more of me than I am willing to give. My partner is patient and kindly reminds me that I am here for a limited time and to make sure I am doing what I truly want to do with that time.
I book Fridays and Sundays off, but frequently use those days to catch up on writing, emails, social media. It matters to me to walk with my partner each day, but I allow phone calls, emails and other people needs to come before my needs and my relationships needs. I have a beautiful life, I can choose to be different. I can learn even more technology so that I can process engineer this problem out of the equation. This is my thought process. How about just stopping and breathing and going for the walk that I committed to and letting everyone else wait. I can do it. I am feeling another wave of decluttering coming. Being a minimalist does not come naturally to me. Small h’ hoarder here. Decluttering is similar to the yoga principle to detach, to be non-grasping, non-collecting, aparigraha. Take a look at my computer desk top, just a little embarrassing. One of my goals for the short term is to declutter my life, desk top, closets, basement. I know that I have to fix all the photos on my website as they are slowing down our search engine ratings, do the March social media content calendar, meet with students, respond to email and write that book. But I also need to schedule time for decluttering. I can pull back good family habits. I can call my step-father once a week and listen while he tells me about his day. I can book a walk with a friend and stick to it. I can prep healthy food for us so that I can stop and have breakfast and check in with my family. I can wake up and resign from commitments that lower my energy, take more than I am willing to give and are not serving my dharma. I am reminded that decluttering my life is essential, booking time to consciously do this is self-love. A lot can happen on a blank page.
I have a huge capacity to focus and work, it may have started with a house fire that took everything I owned the age of 15. My mother got the insurance money and gave me 100.00 to replace everything that I owned. Underwear, socks, clothing, hair dryer, shoes, school books, purses. Imagine everything you owned being gone in a moment. I had a job and I realized that instead of working every other weekend that I could work every weekend for a while and I could replace at least my clothing a little faster. So, I worked. I was proud that I could work and take care of myself. Then, at 17 I started university and needed to work to be able to afford to live and go to school, so I worked and sometimes I worded more than one job so that I could afford to keep learning and get educated. I believed that my education would take me to a place where I could work less and have a financially secure life. First semester of University, I was on the Political Science Society’s board as treasurer, volunteering for the campus student council and organizing a walk-out for an atrocity that happened on campus. Throughout my career people see people like us and recognize that person who gets shit done. By the time I had my second child, I vowed to not volunteer for 2 years. I made a promise not to volunteer, not to overcommit. I remember volunteering my, now, ex-husband for the Montessori school board because I promised I would not volunteer. One word, ADDICT. Yes, not only a work-a-holic, I am a volunteer-a-holic.
I watched some of my mentors, like Aruni (Nan Futronski), a senior Kripalu teacher and life-coach, demonstrate incredible appropriate, stable, boundaries and I imagined, when I grow up (I was almost 40 at the time), I want to be just like that. Ask for help, she demonstrated the importance of having support for herself in intense deep emotional programming. Aruni demonstrated vulnerability and restraint. She demonstrated kindness, compassion and amazing self-awareness, self-love. If I have any skills in this area, I feel that I learned them from her. Her ability to delegate, to see through to the structure and hold the container gently and rigidly adhering to form, function and rest, integration. I learned to assign an anchor for me in a room. To take the break and not allow myself to keep giving but to stop, recharge my batteries in an environment that fed me and to be able to come back into community, the collective fresh and able to give from a place of clarity. And when I over-committed, over-booked, over-estimated by ability in the lead up to one program we did together, Aruni, did not criticize me, she did not ostracize me, she did not turn her back on me she called me to her office and asked with clarity what was happening for me, had insightful questions that helped me to recognize the enabler in me, the resentment sitting inside me, the little girl that was looking for approval and unable to say no, she invited me to look her square in the eye and ask why. She even provided a list of further questions for enquiry and invited me to explore and kept her door open for me to come back and invested time in my process of recovery. In her book, Recovering My Voice: A Memoir of Chaos, Spirituality, and Hope, Aruni shares her journey as a recovering Alcoholic. She also shared opening about this in many Inner Quest Intensives at kripalu where we met and worked together. For many years I was in denial that work and volunteering were as detrimental to my health and well-being as alcohol. Raised by 2 alcoholics, I learned many behaviours of typical of addiction and compensatory behaviours from living with addicts. Thank you Aruni, thank you to all the Inner Quest facilitation and production teams, thank you Kripalu for helping me on that journey to wholeness that helped me to learn that the world will not stop if I take a nap, go for a walk, stop to eat or just love myself.
Around the same time that I was in this process of self-discovery I stopped doing a lot of things that were not serving me or my family. Finding balance, is an on-going process. Like yo-yo dieting, like commitment to exercise/yoga, good life habits are hard until we decide to change. I have been tight in the bud in so many areas of my life, caught in my trauma, waking up and waking up again – but consistently I brush my teeth every morning, I rarely go a day without a good decaf coffee, I shower every night and wash away the day. I teach and I am aware that decluttering, decongesting, saying no and resigning are life habits to decide once about and surrender to the discipline necessary to ensure well-being and self-love remain in focus, on the agenda, each day, not waiting until I can’t breathe, fail, forget an appointment, cancel the fun for the commitment. To praise myself each day for a day well lived, to acknowledge my worth and build my wisdom body’s strength through discipline and self-observation. These are the yamas and niyamas of everyday life. The ultimate form of non-violence and its manifest form is self-love.
There are rituals in my life that have helped in the past and now it is time to return to those rituals and learn a few new ones. This year, part of why I have been able to work, volunteer and show up in a teaching and learning environment is my daily yoga practice – asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, mantra and meditation and a life time practice of mindfulness – being here and now. I know I have to get outside each day so that I can maintain that practice. This year I am committed to hiring a virtual assistant to stop doing some of the busy work that does not require my expertise. The meditation for me is to release my fear of money, the fear that there is not enough, the fear that I won’t have enough to pay bills, pay the assistant.
I am committed to creating sacred days in my week, month and year to retreat. To retreat completely and be in a space of free flow do what I love with whom I love. I know that discipline and organization are necessary for me to do the work I love, scale the business I love and make time for the life I want to live.
I know that multi-tasking is not effective and is detrimental to my mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health, I commit to doing one thing at a time. I can feel the resistance to this even as I write the words. I will watch my breath, listen to the speaker and resist responding to text messages, emails and social media while in meetings, trainings, networking groups and be completely present or not attend.
One last confession in this long litany of limits to self-love, I am guilty of binging on Netflix, using story to unplug and check-out, yet another addictive behaviour. Oh, and the glass of wine and snacks that inevitably go with the show. It is winter as I write this and I vow to myself to give myself silence and reverence to eat my meals not television or training programs, I vow to have a cup of hot water before I eat my evening meal to slow down and feel, sense, connect to my environment, the people around me and my intuition about what nurtures and actually sustains me. I vow to choose to create variety in the entertainment that I choose – listen to music, go for an evening walk, engage in conversation, play games, write novels that may never be read, journal, read books, paint, sew, declutter.
One of the secrets to coming back to the breath, back to the discipline is to surround ourselves with like-minded souls so that we can remind each other with love and compassion to keep coming back to what enacts balance. And, when we find that we cannot the courage to ask for help, to reach out and talk. I know when I have not been outside for 3 days or more that I have a problem. I book a walk with someone in my house, a friend or I just get up – stop in the middle of what I am doing and stand outside (any weather) and feel the outdoors, feel nature, ideally barefoot, connecting with the mother and inviting in the healing energy of the planet to heal me and make me whole again.
Shifting gears, creating rituals, setting boundaries and staying focused on what really matters and make us happy can help us to lead an examined life with the potential of mitigating the propensity towards over-commitment. My intention this year is to schedule time with me. Time to think about decisions and time to think about what I do want to say yes to. May we have joy, bliss, freedom to be and the discipline to keep coming back to what brings us there.