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I hope you don’t mind that I’ve cancelled December…

I had big plans for December.

December was going to be the month I put myself out there in a big way and started coaching people outside of the Martha Beck Life Coach Training student group.

December was going to be the month I finally did all the things I’d been thinking about but avoiding and/or hadn’t gotten around to.during all of my travel in November.

December was going to be the month in which I finished strong in 2015.

Do you ever have months like this?

Months where you sit down on Day 1 and decide that *this* is going to be the month when you finally do that thing you’ve been meaning to do (you know the one!).

Because I do. If I’m being honest, more months than not I fall into this trap. The trap of thinking that this month is going to be the one month to rule them all.

It’s a dangerous line of thinking because it never works out.

The bigger you set your intention the harder it seems you fail. (Or at least, I do.)

So in December I’m trying something radical. I’m trying something new. I’m clearing the decks of tasks and to-do’s. I’m setting aside all of the things I didn’t get to in November.

Instead, I am allowing myself to expand into the wide-open stretch of December.

I am choosing to sit on the bus and not read — just ponder.

I am choosing to do just three push-ups a day and call it exercise. (Hey, it’s three more than I was doing!)

I am choosing to meditate.

I am choosing to dream.

I am choosing to sleep.

And for now, I am not looking ahead to January, to 2016, to New Year’s Resolutions.

For the moment I am looking no further than the span of my next breath — because for the moment I am waiting and waiting is always best done fully present.

And because I’m waiting and I’m present — I’m noticing things, too.

I’m noticing the woman on the street urgently tugging her tiny dog out of the path of an oncoming bicycle as I glide by in the bus on my way to work.

I’m noticing the tree on my walk to the bus stop that is still stubbornly holding on to beautiful, ruddy leaves when all the other trees have long since faded to patchy clumps of dismal brown.

I’m noticing myself speaking up in meetings when I would usually have held my tongue. I’m noticing myself being afraid and still doing it anyways.

I’m noticing myself becoming someone new.

And I’d like to invite you to notice yourself becoming, too. Because we’re all becoming in every moment — even in those when it seems certain that, for now at least, we’ve stopped.

And so before the next round of holidays hit and the exhilarating rush of New Year’s Resolutions I’d like to invite you to take a week and just slow down until you’d swear you’d stopped.

And in that moment of stillness I invite you to notice who, exactly, it is that you might be becoming.

Because I think that the noticing is the preparation — the step that lets you know where it is you’re headed.

And so while everyone else is already busy dreaming up their 2016, I’m going to invite you to wait, to pause, to rest, to notice, and to take stock.

Because it’s not until you’ve done these things that you’ll have any idea where it is you’re going.

And only then will you be ready to tackle the journey.

 

When was the last time you gave yourself the luxury of living life slowly? Let me know in the comments!

 

I got overwhelmed by the holidays. (Again.)

I’m having a hard time believing that Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas looms on the horizon. Which means I am forced to face the fact that we have indeed entered the holiday season — and, of course, the fact that I am almost always overwhelmed by the holidays.

I secretly kind of loathe the holidays.

Not the good parts — time off from work, time spent with friends and family — those parts I like very much.

The part I hate is the bustle. The frenzy. The way people rush around all December like someone is going to light them on fire if they don’t buy Aunt Gertrude a present.

And I hate the fact that every store between now and January will be piping cheer over the top of this frantic, anxiety-ridden atmosphere — as though tinny carols have the power to cure us of our collective meltdown.

The dissonance of the season grates at me and the overwhelm created by the general bustle, rush, and sparkle of the holiday season means I lumber through December like a dazed antelope in search of a rock large enough to hide under.

This may or may not be because I am a highly sensitive person (or HSP; you read more about it at Elaine Aron’s website, hsperson.com).

Ok, fine, I’m sure it is because I am an HSP.

But it seems like a bad sign that this year I didn’t even make it through Thanksgiving.

I had intended to make it through. I thought going into it that I was in a pretty good place — mostly rested up from my previous travel, well-balanced, grounded, and connected.

But I still found myself overwhelmed by the holidays.

Because Thanksgiving was a lot.

A lot of hours on an airplane. A lot of people for hours and days on end. A lot of driving. A lot of bustle. A lot of laughter and conversation. A lot of loud voices and loud places.

None of which is to say that I don’t love my friends and family in California or that I don’t love going home to visit. Because I absolutely do.

But I’m just not a person who thrives on “a lot” of anything. The only things I really like “a lot” of are things like solitude, silence, good books, and cups of tea.

I’m a person who thrives on “just a little”.

And the holidays are often all about “a lot” — leaving a little person like me feeling a lot overwhelmed in their wake.

Which is why for the next wave of the holiday season, I’m going to try and do it better.

I’m going to try and remember that it’s ok that I like just a little when other people like a lot and that it’s ok that I need a lot of time for myself (which can be hard to stomach when there are loved ones downstairs, but is nonetheless true).

And I’d like to invite you to do the same.

I’d like to invite you think about the hustle and the bustle and what the holidays mean to you — and feel free to make that happen if you discover that your vision doesn’t line up with everyone else’s.

If you are an HSP too, then you might want to check out Elaine Aron’s suggestion for the holidays here .

Because my vision of a perfect holiday involves not-going and not-doing and not-bustling.

It involves my warmest PJ’s and my fuzziest pair of socks and a cozy fireplace if I can manage it.

A perfect holiday is warm tea and a good book and my favorite blanket and probably not bothering to put up the tree.

Your perfect holiday may look entirely different.

That’s fine and perfect, too. Maybe your perfect holiday looks just like Hallmark wants it too (in which case — lucky you?).

But I’m guessing that for most of us it looks rather like something else and that the collective urgency and anxiety that permeates the season has more to do with that disconnect than anything else.

Well, that and Aunt Gertrude, of course.

So if you, like me, kind of loathe the holidays and are already feeling overwhelmed. I want to invite you to do it differently this year — by having the holidays your way instead of anyone else’s.

What does your perfect holiday look like? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

 

Settling into the stillness

While I was a student at MIT I forgot how to be still.

I was so madly busy, so go-go-go that every time I came up for breath, I twitched restlessly, sure I must be missing or forgetting something.

I would go home for Christmas, and in the days that followed my arrival I was relentless. I fidgeted. I poked and prodded. I asked “What’s up?” over and over, helplessly, of anyone afflicted with my presence.

One year, in a fit of desperation I sat down to my mother’s piano (an instrument I do not play) and proceeded to teach myself Bach, one agonized note at a time. I played the same piece over and over and over for hours, for days until my fingers flew almost gracefully over the keys.

I played until every nerve in the house was frayed just like mine were and — in the moment when my sister finally yelled at me to stop — I thought that in their annoyance my family at last shared a trace of my pain.

This affliction was usually (thankfully) short-lived. Within a handful of days my anxiety dimmed from a pitched fervor to a disquieting buzz that settled in my bones and could be mistaken for “normal”. I could come to accept that for a few short weeks there might be nothing I needed to do — no imminent crisis that needed thwarting, no pending deadline I had somehow forgotten.

But I could not settle into stillness.

The first time I tried in earnest to meditate was the winter after I graduated with my Master’s degree.

I settled down on a cushion and dutifully crossed my legs. I set my timer for the recommended 20 minutes. I closed my eyes and focused my attention on my breathing. I pressed “start” on my cell phone timer.

I think I lasted all of 30 seconds before I was shifting again — my hand reaching instinctively to kill the timer as I rose to my feet and settled myself back at the computer.

Sitting in stillness with my thoughts was unbearable.

I tried again in the following days — setting my timer. I never made it the full 20 minutes, but sometimes I counted myself lucky to endure five as my thoughts raced in tight, anxious circles and I struggled to remember my breath.

I gave up eventually. I quit.

I decided meditation wasn’t for me; the way I’d decided it wasn’t at age 10 when I’d read about it in a book, sat down to try it out, and remained still for a (very patient) three minutes before deciding I must not be doing it right.

I guess I’d expected some kind of a mystical experience, but all I got was me — concentrated and intensified and uncomfortably near as I struggled to follow, not dictate, the rhythm of my breath.

But as we enter this particular winter — as we enter into the liminal space between winter’s first chill and the snowy onset of winter’s depths — I’ve noticed something in me has shifted.

No longer am I the girl who can’t sit still.

No longer am I the girl who found a 20 minute meditation stretched out like an infinite, bridgeless crevasse I was unable to cross.

No.

These days I find myself sitting in stillness more often than not, in vast stretches of empty hours spent on the bus to and from work or on airplanes as I criss-cross the country with the alacrity of a hockey puck.

I used to fill these spaces with noise, with words, with pages and pages of the books I voraciously consumed — stuffing my head to the brim with thoughts and ideas. But these days, more and more, I find I’d rather just sit down where I am and watch and breathe and contemplate the world as it slips silently by out my window.

On the eve of this particular winter I’m finding myself settling into a new and yet familiar stillness, settling into the moments of soft introspection as my attention draws inward even as the trees draw in their sap.

I find myself welcoming, not dreading, the impending cold that will keep me hunkered down. No longer does the threat of this seem anything other than delicious as I settle myself down for a kind of inward-turning hibernation.

I find myself feeling, for perhaps the first time since I arrived at MIT, like I’m incubating the seeds of something entirely new.

I find myself returning to the oft-quoted passage from T.S. Eliot:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

I’m sinking myself into the stillness now, I’m waiting into the winter.

Because I do not yet feel ready for thought as I settle, ever more deeply, into the person I find I’m busy becoming.

What about you — who might you be becoming? Let me know in the comments.

 

When it’s all just too much

In the past week I have crisscrossed the country by aeroplane for a wonderful weekend in California, spent a very brief night collapsed in my bed in Boston, and hopped on yet another flight to attend a planetary science conference in DC.

To say I am exhausted would be an understatement.

I knew going into this that my travel schedule in November was ambitious (I’m flying back to CA in a couple of weeks to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family) — but even though I knew it was a stretch I still found myself taken aback by my profound levels of exhaustion.

Which is why I’ve been doing everything I can to go to bed early and fit in the odd afternoon nap.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my recent re-commitment to prioritizing rest, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been taking my own advice.

Because the thing about refusing to rest is that it’s a kind of perverse self-flagellation.

You think “If I were better/stronger/etc. I wouldn’t need to rest” and so you forego your rest in order to prove your own goodness or strength and in doing so you actually make yourself weak.

If there was a way to not need to sleep I’d be all over it. But there’s not.

I’ve tried just about every trick in the book and none of them worked — so I’m forced to the conclusion that rest really is a non-negotiable if you want to be happy. (Or at least if I want to be happy — maybe you are made of sterner stuff!)

One of the things I’ve been paying attention to since I started life coach training is where suffering shows up in my life.

Byron Katie says “No one can hurt me — that’s my job” and everything I’ve seen so far would indicate that this is true (at least for emotional suffering; I think there’s still an argument to be made for others causing us physical pain…).

No one can hurt me without my permission.

No one can ask me to hook a work trip up against a personal trip unless I say yes and no one can tell me I shouldn’t be napping right now except me.

That’s the power of coaching and of Byron Katie’s method of inquiry — because in noticing our suffering we get to make a new choice.

We get to choose to take a nap.

We get to choose to say no if we want to or to say yes if we want that instead.

We get to choose to make new rules for ourselves and our lives — instead of feeling like our lives are cruelly dictated by the expectations of others, the culture, or our boss.

When you question the cause of your suffering you step out of the role of the victim and into the role of the hero.

You become the leader of your life, not because you have to, but because you choose to.

Which is why I’ll be napping on my flight home tomorrow and why I’ll be spending an unsual number of hours in my pajamas this weekend.

There are times when life is busy and stressful and complicated and messy and exhausting and brilliant.

And when life gets to be too much, sometimes the only way through is to crawl your weary bones back into bed — knowing that your life will be right where you left it when you crawl back out from under the covers again.

 

When the most productive thing you can do is rest

I have a troubled relationship with rest.

I’m not sure when the trouble first crept in — perhaps when I was a child and staying up too late would cause sharp agonies to ache in my legs, or perhaps it was later, in high school, when not-resting was its own kind of numbing that left me less capable of feeling the sharp ache of my own loneliness.

And if it wasn’t any of those things, then my troubled relationship with rest began at MIT, when my physical body became nothing more than a burden that stood between me and the monumental workload I struggled to manage each semester.

As a student at MIT, I often worked until the point when I was no longer capable of coherent thought. Only then collapsing into my bed to snatch 30 minutes or an hour of desperately needed rest only to wake, sleep-logged and disoriented, to crawl back out of my bed and work another hour or two until coherent thought once more deserted me.

I passed whole nights, sometimes many consecutive nights, in this fragmented and sleep-fogged state.

The ultimate consequence of this was that much of my time at MIT has vanished from the grip of memory — the human brain writes experience to long-term memory during sleep — and without sleep those experiences slip from short-term memory and are often gone forever.

At MIT it seemed to me that my need to rest stood directly between me and my own survival. My body seemed a burden that limited rather than supported the performance of my mind.

But ultimately, this was always an illusion.

The research is clear that people who are chronically sleep deprived underperform those who are well rested (even though the chronically sleep deprived start to feel they are “adequately rested” — the body normalizes the experience of chronic sleep deprivation after a week or two, but performance is still affected).

All of which means that, even if you don’t feel like you need it, often the most productive thing you can do is rest.

I know this, and I still struggle with rest.

I feel like I have too much going on and not enough hours and so I shave off 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there and pretty soon it’s 11 pm and I still haven’t crawled into my bed even though I know the my alarm clock will go off at 6:30 and (for me at least) 6.5 hours (though sadly almost-average) is not even close to being enough rest.

And still I comfort myself with the knowledge that 6.5 hours “isn’t too bad” because my standards were set at MIT where I went whole semesters without sleeping more than 4-5 hours a night.

I struggle because it’s hard for me to believe that if I really rested I would still get things done.

But I’m so, so tired of coping with inadequate rest (pun intended, of course).

I’m tired of the cult of “hardcore” people who seem to run on redbull and fumes and are lauded for their super-human efforts.

Maybe there are people out there for whom this actually works, but I am not one of them.

And yet I feel held to this unattainable standard, like everyone will judge me if I’m not sleep-resistant and bulletproof.

But what I’ve learned this year is that when we fear judgement from others it’s usually because we’re secretly busy judging ourselves.

I’m not entirely sure what my judgement is — likely it’s some variation on “sleep is for the weak” or “i’m too cool to rest” or “I shouldn’t need more rest than other people”.

I expect my judgement is wound up in a panic that I’ll never get far enough, fast enough if I choose to let myself rest.

But the real truth, the one that resonates in my body when I sit with it, is that I create only my own misery when I sacrifice my rest.

Which is why I’m choosing to forge a new relationship to rest.

I’m reclaiming my right to “tread gently” on my physical body and see my needs met.

Or, at least, I’m declaring my intention to start working on it.

Because it’s been years now since I graduated from MIT and more days than not I still feel like I’m carrying around the burden of those unslept hours and some days those hours feel heavier than anything I know.

Which is why today I’m choosing to rest.

 

What about you? How do you relate to rest? If you’re the average American it’s likely that you, too, have a troubled relationship with rest. Let me know in the comments below!