It’s Monday morning and my mind is whirring.
I work freelance and so I typically have multiple clients going on at the same time, with multiple projects. I also pastor a small church in Southern Vermont and of course on Sunday is when you get all the news of what’s happening, who needs you and what needs to be done over the next week. I have a seventeen-year-old son, and his life is busy. Sometimes, just keeping our calendars straight is a challenge. I have several relationships in my life that are important to me and require nourishing to stay vital. And on and on it goes.
In other words. I am just like everyone else.
But of course. I’m not. None of us are.
There was a time, a decade ago, when I had a lot more going on in my life. A lot more. I was like a whirling dervish, handling all these things with ease and aplomb. I didn’t think about it. Life could pile it on and like a character in a movie I just made it happen. It was like a game. How much can I handle? Bring it on. Superman is here.
Only I wasn’t. Doing too much has a price. And in my case, that price was taking care of myself. Oh, I took care of my health. But I neglected a part of myself that, at the time, I didn’t realize, was essential – my creative and spiritual self. When things piled on (and you know the law of life – the more you do, the more people give you to do.), I pushed those parts of my life aside. They were optional, I told myself. Those can wait, I told myself. I was, I told myself, “the man in the suit.” (a phrase my therapist give that version of me.). I got it done. All of it. At the same time.
There was a pride in that. But we all know where pride comes into the picture. Our grandmothers and the bible pounded it into us as kids. Pride goeth before the fall. And fall I did.
Life came apart. Completely. And with life, so did I. I lived the zombie life for a couple of years while my therapist and my pastors put me back together. Or rather, made me put myself together. One of the things I had to relearn, something I had known as a young man and had forgotten as a middle-aged man, was just how important my faith and my creativity were. They were my underpinnings.
When I talk faith, I am not talking religion. Religion is an activity, an organization that sometimes feeds our spirit, and sometimes becomes just another activity. Get too busy in the activities, and you can lose the spirit nourishing part of what feeds us. And we need to be fed. Spirituality, like a muscle, grows weak without use.
The same is true of creativity. Nourish it, or it dies. Surround yourself with art and music and people who love creative things, or it dies. Exercise it, challenge it, or it does. It is like spirituality that way.
And I had let that go. For what? Activity? Because it was responsible. (I can hear my dad’s voice in that last one.). Because I wanted to be someone and somehow art and spirituality wasn’t “enough”.
I would have denied that last one. But I was acting like it. And like a high riverbank on the Mississippi, as the river of life slowly wore away my underpinnings, I came undone.
Because when you come back from zombie land, it doesn’t happen all at once. It comes in a slow slog, one ugly, painful, hard step at a time. You end up examining everything in your life, absolutely everything, to understand where it fits in your collapse, and whether it has value in your recovery, or not. It was a time unlike my life before. It was the opposite of multitasking. It was unitasking, an intense focus on whatever I was doing at that moment. Back then, as I dug out of the dark hole that was my life, there was no choice. It was the only way. I wasn’t capable
But it turned out to be a wonderful way to live.
Because, when I unitask, I am intensely focused on what I am doing and what I am experiencing at that moment. There are no distractions. I am focused on the person I am with entirely, and so each encounter is richer. I am focused on what I do entirely, and my work has become better. When I am with someone, one of my children, or the woman I love or the neighbor next door. I am with them, without half my mind thinking ahead to the next thing on the list that has to be done. If I go for a walk in the quarry, I am all there. There is nothing to distract from the wonder of plants and rocks and space and color around me.
And, this is the amazing thing, I am as effective in doing as I was in multitasking. No, change that. I am more effective. I am doing as much as I ever did. The quality of my work is better. My relationships are better. And I am way, way, less stressed.
I thought I was an aberration but I have sense learned that there have been study after study that confirms what I learned the hard way. That being more in tune, more focused on the moment, the now, is way more effective than living the scattered, too much going on, thinking about all of it all the time way most of us do it.
Who knew? I was way normal.
The keys, and there are two of them, are mindfulness, and overcoming resistance. They are both essays of their own, but I am not teaching here. I am, in my own wandering way, getting to a point.
If you are overwhelmed. If you feel essential parts of you have been lost in the busyness of life. And if you can’t see your way out, don’t despair. There IS a way out, and you don’t have to take the “wait until life collapses” route I did. There are good ways to do this. Books that can help. Classes that can help. Therapists and pastors that can help. Mentors and coaches that can help and can get you to a better place.
It begins by being aware that something is out of kilter. But then it takes one more step – believing you and the essential parts of you, those things that have been lost, are worth reclaiming. When you believe that, getting the help, and beginning the work is easy. But it doesn’t happen until we believe we, and our lost, best selves, are worth that work.
And you are worth it.
Be well. Travel Wisely,