03 Sep Do you Know When it's Time to Rest and Renew?
When was the Last Time you Rested and Renewed?
I am 2 days shy of 45 years and yet I am still learning the age old law of trying to reap more than I can sow. It was an all too familiar scene – last Sunday afternoon lying on the bed in tears (hoping the kids wouldn’t find me) lamenting to my husband about my endless “to do list”; my anger at not being able to say “no” to many seemingly urgent yet unimportant priorities that I had inevitably responded “yes” to (I often think it is my way of procrastinating about the really important things that I REALLY need to do); and my inevitable feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted.
As luck would have it my eldest daughter Olivia opened the bedroom door wondering where we had disappeared to. She took one look at me – with tears flowing down my cheeks, and turned to Dad gently saying “Is mum at that place again – you know….where she wears herself out?” Talk about from the mouth of babes – Ouch!! Liv came over and gave me a big hug and said “Mum you just need to stop saying “yes”. “Just tell people that you aren’t available and that you need to focus on your own work – that also means no putting on that washing in the middle of your work day, no shopping, no watering the garden, no stopping to help out someone else in their own crisis, no feeling like you have to spend time with us kids all the time, you just need to focus on what you need to do.”
She was right. When was I going to learn that the cycle of go, go ,go ,go, go, and fitting more and more into an already crammed schedule is not sustainable? It will always end every three of four months in a collapsed heap of mental exhaustion, or alternatively the body puts up its natural defence mechanism and says “no thanks – I am not going to perform for you anymore” – at which time I will invariably get a nasty cold sore or a mouth ulcer that won’t heal, or neck and shoulder pain, or some other ailment that I can’t ignore. You see when we try to defy natural laws of balance and the need for renewal – we end up breaking ourselves – our bodies, our minds and our emotions against them.
While still in wonder and shock of receiving adult wisdom from my 14 year old – more wonder was in stall. Our 7 year old daughter Holly – who had obviously been taking this all in from just outside the bedroom appeared in the doorway. “Mama – I have something for you”. She climbed up onto the bed, planted a kiss on my wet cheek and presented me with a little blue box tied with a white ribbon. I untied the ribbon and opened the lid. Inside was a small blue glass gem, “It is a magic stone,” she said knowingly. It was beautifully smooth and it shone in the light of the bedroom window. Underneath the gem was a little laminated card. On it was written “The Lord is my strength and my shield, he is my helper in times of need.” “I got it at Sunday School,” she said. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “Thank you Holly, this means so much to me,” and I hugged her tightly. At that moment I had everything I need.
In all the busyness of my crammed schedule, no outcome, no goal, no completed project, no feelings of importance compared with the love that I felt and received in my depleted state on that Sunday afternoon. And had I chosen to push through – I would have missed it completely.
So how do we stop the incessant cycle of busyness and then inevitably crashing?
First I had to stop, allow a gap in the busy-ness of life and shine awareness on how I am choosing to respond to life situations. Awareness – or being an observer of self (thoughts, feelings and actions) is often best achieved by asking and answering questions such as:
• How am I feeling at this moment in time? “Am I tired, feeling depleted, resenting this moment or wanting to stay in bed an hour longer than is possible?- if so, what is that telling me?”
• How am I behaving at this moment in time? – am I reacting or acting? “Do I find myself caving in to someone else’s agenda or demands and then notice that I am irritated and angry afterwards?”
• What is the driving force behind what I am doing at this moment in time? “Why am I doing what I am doing right now? – Am I trying to prove my worth by being “Busy and important” or to attract attention or to get approval from others?”
• Whose responsibility is this task? – “Am I disempowering someone else by taking action based on what they are not doing?” (household chores like picking up my teenager’s clothes so I can walk instead of wade through their bedroom is a classic case in point!)
• Am I avoiding doing something important by choosing to procrastinate instead? Which ultimately increases my stress levels. “Am I in the thick of thin things?”
By not wanting what is – we often pour more discontent on an already unhappy self. This moment is this moment whether we like it or not – the truth is right now and when we make the present moment an enemy, or a problem, or turn it into a means to a future end, we stop enjoying life. For me that habitually happens when I take my mind too seriously – when I listen to the voice in my head that keeps saying – “I just need to finish this and then I can relax,or I’ll be happy when I have done x,y and z. In this mind dominated state I create a need for compulsive striving, never reaching the destination and unconsciously denying life in the here and now. This quickly escalates into stress, an impatience for the next thing, and long term exhaustion – like an elastic band that has been stretched for too long and it then loses its spring and ability to bounce back.
Stress, strain and being under pressure all have one thing in common – being in a state of tension – like the elastic band that is stretched to its limit. Acceptance is physically, mentally and emotionally “letting go” of the tension. How do we do that? By getting out of the mind and choosing to be aware of the present moment.
For me last Sunday that meant accepting that I was exhausted, letting go of the mind created judgements – such as “I should be writing reports…I am wasting time….I will be even more behind that I already am!!” and rather than using these justifications to push through, ignore all the warning signs and keep on going, I instead opted for some quality R&R. That meant making friends with the present moment. After receiving a big hug from Carl and Olivia and Holly, having a good cry, and going through several Kleenex, I took a few deep breaths, followed up with a sigh and enjoyed the warm indulgence of our bed, the soft pillow creating a haven for my headache, the hot cuppa that Carl had made – a wonder remedy for frayed nerves!, and accepting Carl’s offer of taking care of dinner, while I rested. We sat down to a delicious Indian curry and the evening finished up with watching Spiderman and enjoying down time with the family.
At the breakfast table the next day, Carl and I called a family conference. Carl instigated it by announcing that “Mum has too much on her plate”, I followed up by suggesting that I needed more practical support. Olivia and Oscar both volunteered – somewhat reluctantly (they flipped a coin for it!), to walk Holly to school on 3 mornings per week on their way to the local high school. I also used this opportunity to remind the kids of the chores that they had agreed to do as part of helping out the family – chores which had somehow slipped off their radar and ended up in my lap or Carl’s – such as walking the dog, poop scoops, dishes and setting the table for dinner each night.
Carl and I also agreed that our scheduled early morning walks together with the dog had fallen by the way side and that we needed to reinstate them – mostly for the mental health benefit – but I thought that ridding myself of the chocolate that has somehow managed to make its way onto my bottom would be an added bonus.
Asking for support and delegating jobs to the kids not only enabled me to align my life with the priorities that I most needed to focus on, and achieve better balance, it also enabled the kids to contribute to something bigger than themselves, to appreciate that I wasn’t Supermum, and to learn skills that they will need as they move from dependence to independence. It also created an environment at home that was mostly tension-free. Tension within the home – such as being snappy at your partner or more irritated by your kids behaviours, is often a by-product of mum doing too much for others and the tank is empty.
Once you have set up the supportive structures and systems that enable you to align your life with what you want and need to do, then take action. This is where discipline comes in. Discipline comes from the word “disciple” or “learner”. We “learn” best by doing. I find it helpful to write up 3 priorities each day on my fridge whiteboard and then check them off as I complete each task. If I write up more than 4 priorities or forget to do it – I invariably fail and go into overload – which is what had happened in the weeks leading up to my crash and burn. I had become so busy that I had stopped using my whiteboard – instead I had resorted to only using my diary – which was crammed with events and deadlines. I had also stopped taking breaks during the day – thinking that I could get more done – this as you know stopped producing fruit by the Sunday afternoon.
When I have refuelled my tank and am aware and in the present moment I will often ask myself “What is the best use of my time right now?” I find this helpful in avoiding being sucked into procrastination or being drawn into the urge to follow my feelings and do what I want rather than what I need to do. Taking regular scheduled breaks during the day helps with this. I also find it helps me to be able to concentrate better and produce higher quality results.
On reflecting over that Sunday afternoon – I realised that I had learnt several life lessons:
That the natural law of needing rest and recovery to refuel our emotional, physical, mental and social tank before heading out on the journey of life’s demands at work, at home and socially is vital. Without it the consequence is tension, exhaustion and burn out – as the saying goes – “health is not everything – but without it everything is nothing.”
I had also learnt that in order to say “Yes” to the important you need to say “No” to the less important – you need to stop being in the thick of thin things. Instead align your life with what you value and what is most helpful – and take action.