One of my friends said something that caught my attention the other day. "We all moved out to the islands for a slower life so we wouldn't be so swamped. And we're all overly swamped."
It was such an interesting comment that seemed so spot on. In a society that equates self-worth with productivity, it can seem like the only way to just be and stop constantly doing is to disengage from society and move to an island. But even on the island, you end up swamped. Exhausted. Filling your day with thing after thing on your to-do list with no end in sight. Then hoping, somehow, to get away from it all to make more space. But how?!
It's true that this is hard. And this can be especially true for women since we've been socialized to take care of everyone's needs other than our own. We're not supposed to desire, but we are supposed to be desirable. And we're not supposed to have a self, our worth is proven in our selflessness.
The way this showed up for me in life was like this: The only way I could feel some sense of self-worth was when I helped someone else or when I made a difference in the world in some way. When this wasn't happening, it was stressful. I didn't feel like I existed unless there was some difference to make in the world out there. I needed something to respond to to know what to do with myself and who to be. Which meant saying no or moving towards something I found interesting for no reason other than it made me curious was impossible. These things didn't matter. They didn't help me exist throug the eyes of others. So why do them?
The only way I could feel somewhat ok in my life was by swamping myself with more and more people and problems to respond to. Because I couldn't see any of this, I did what any self-respecting human would do--more and more of what kept me busy so that I didn't have to stare down the terror of my nonexistence.
I needed a way to start doing something new even when everything in the world was encouraging me in a different direction. If I wanted to have a life that felt slower and more spacious--one where I could move towards what I loved and filled me up instead of consuming me and burning me out on making a difference for everyone and everything--I didn't need to move away and escape it all. I needed to start shifting the programming inside myself. To do that, here's what I had to learn and practice:
- How to stop filling in all the space of my life with stimulation just so I'd have something to respond to.
- How to deal with the stress I felt every time I had no hustle and bustle.
- Some way to tolerate empty space and trust that my presence and being was enough without endless doing.
Once I could do this, then, I could begin slowly introducing something I wanted into my life and moving towards it (rather than frantically scrambling to fill the void of my nonexistence with whatever I could grab and shove into my day most easily).
These shifts were pretty major things. Not at all easy to do or I would have done them years ago. Which is why it's surprising that one simple question asked by a coach friend could cut through all 3 of these at once. "Which of these images best captures that spacious feeling you'd love to cultivate in your life? A coral reef. The desert. A tropical rainforest. Some other landscape?"
I sat with the question for several seconds before responding.
It was the rainforest--the rainforest felt the way I wanted my life to be. Unlike my current life that felt more like a being a checker at a busy grocery store sliding item after item across that barcode scanner with nothing to show for it at the end of the day. But the rainforest was an image I could hold onto instead of falling back into the familiar productivity as self-worth program that was running me into the ground. There was a feeling behind this image that I knew and could feel in my body. The rainforest felt like it had a pace of its own outside of the hustle and bustle of capitalism. Trees grew little by little. Raindrops fell hard, then soft, then rolling and dripping their way from upper canopy, leaf to leaf, then gently splashing onto the forest floor. Everything in the rainforest happened in its own time. Even the sounds that called, chirped, and echoed through the humid air.
With this image to hang onto, every time I made a choice or decision about what to do in my day I could begin asking myself a simple question. What would the rainforest do? Then, instead of thinking of an answer or looking outside of myself to know what the world needed me to do, I could feel into my being and know how to choose space. The rainforest would wait. It would allow things to unfold. It wouldn't rush. It wouldn't have to know. The rainforest felt different in my body than the old productivity as self-worth way which hardly had any space around it at all. And as soon as I could feel that difference, I could say no. I could choose space. I could begin tolerating the terror and stress I felt at breaking out of the expected societal mold instead of immediately backfilling my life with details, endless stimulation, and minutaei in an attempt to make the stress and terror go away. And as I did, what I loved and wanted outside of being what others and the world needed slowly began to emerge.
What image can you hold onto as you reclaim your time and space? As you refuse to be swamped, but instead find your way like a raindrop to the forest floor, gently rolling down giant green leaves, into nooks and crannies, and around and between vines until you land, then seep slowly into the soil?
If you'd love more space, energy, meaning, and purpose in your days and life....and less exhaustion, endlessly filling your day by responding to the tyrrany of whatever's needed around you, and feeling like you need to move to an island to stop being swamped (and then realizing you're still swamped), join us for Live Your Wildly Beautiful Life starting February 1. And in the free discovery call to find out if this online experience is right for you, you'll have a chance to connect with an image (like the rainforest) that captures how you'd love for your life to feel. We'd love to have you as part of this intergenerational group of socially and environmentally conscious women!