Thriving

UnknownI have been thinking a lot, lately, about how easily I can get overextended – physically and emotionally depleted, cranky, judgmental, frustrated. I have, for a long time, been aware that I struggle to set boundaries in my life, striving to do more, be more, give more. How do I shut down? When is enough, enough?

I have studied the spiritual practice of saying yes, and saying no. That has given me an awareness that I need to find ways to say no more, though that, in itself, is a difficult thing to do. I am, by nature, a pleaser.

I have found myself wishing for a sanctioned day off, as though I somehow need affirmation or permission from the world around me, to stop.

I have tried a variety of ways to structure my calendar – different colors for different kinds of activities, trying to allow for space between activities, trying to allow for rest time after leading programs and retreats. But when push comes to shove, there is a voice inside that urges me to fit in one more thing. The same voice entreats – ‘You can do this. You’ll be fine. It will be good for you to do this.’

The Habit Journal that I have been keeping for the past 6 months has a daily reminder to visualize the life I want, the goals I have set. I discovered that I hardly ever check that box – I have struggled to know how to visualize it all. Where do I start? What is the paradigm?

At this turn of the year, I have been thinking a lot about this idea of visualizing. How can I prepare myself, in new and renewing ways, to live into the values and goals I hold dear?

It turns out that the Christmas holiday, itself, provided the doorway into new understanding. We had the great good fortune to spend a week with our grown children and their significant ones, coming and going. While they were with us, I gave way to my delight in being with them, and simply let everything else go. I didn’t check email very often, I didn’t excuse myself to tend to work things. I enjoyed every minute of our time together.

At the same time, I was also in the midst of some current work conversations and planning. When I did take a few minutes to check email, I discovered that my colleagues had been sending emails that were, now, days old. Feelings of guilt, regret, self-judgment crept in.

Somewhere in the middle of this joy and this guilt, I remembered some things I had read a few years ago, in a book titled, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, by Dan Buettner. Buettner identifies and investigates the happiest regions on four continents. I went back and re-read what he wrote about the people of Denmark. Here are some of the conclusions he reached about the happiness factors in Denmark: build an environment of trust; tolerance; care for the young and old; get the right job; work just enough (most Danes work 37 hours a week and then go home to their families); cultivate the art of living (develop an appreciation of art); make cozy, well-lit home environments; nudge people into interaction; optimize cities for activity; volunteer. All of a sudden, I found that this paradigm offered me a vision that, while unlike much of what I experience here in the US, allows me to see a way toward choices that feel potentially more life-giving to me. Part of what I need to do is more clearly identify and name what I value, and claim time to honor those values. They include doing the work I so love, time with my family, time with friends, time for new adventures, time to read and knit, time to exercise, time for music-making, time for retreat, time to ponder and just be.

I discovered that visualizing wasn’t about seeing from the outside – managing my calendar, goal-setting, strategizing. It was about seeing and experiencing from the inside – What matters most to me? Where do I experience deep joy? What do I need to thrive?

I’m off, now, to read A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough, by Wayne Muller. Let 2016 begin!

What do you need to thrive?