A seemingly innocuous 24hr stomach bug divulged into a late-night loss of my dinner, spiraling downhill from there, literally, as I stood up, passed out, hit my head on the bathroom sink, and was laid out unconscious on the bathroom floor.
Drawn into a disjointed dimension seemingly outside myself, the internal lights flickered on and off as I navigated this strange vortex in my mind, struggling feebly to find my way back to the cold hard bathroom tile and the throbbing pain in my head.
I had been pushing myself way too hard for far too long. I felt like an overdrawn battery, constantly running on much less than a full charge. I knew I was depleted, but I didn’t know what to do about it. There were too many demands. Too many obligations and desires clamoring for my attention.
Lost in the inertia of overwhelm it seemed a serious blow to the head was the only thing that could physically knock me back to solid ground. I literally had to go unconscious in order to wake up. Fortunately, all my major systems are in relatively good working order (at least according to the doctors’ machines), and it was dehydration and depletion that invoked this eye-opening blackout experience.
During my slow tedious recovery, I was forced to confront the clamoring voices of my restless mind amidst the oscillating overtures of my weary heart and ringing head.
Where do I go from here? How do I adjust the rhythms of my daily routine to better serve my wellbeing, and still keep up with all of my demands? How do I change my fundamental approach… to life, in such a way that these adjustments stick for once?
Even though a simple and easy way of being is all I’ve ever been searching for through all my striving, these are far from simple and easy questions.
Within this so-called setback, I came across two big insights and five practical approaches that have begun to help me navigate such momentous and increasingly common quandaries of modern-day society.
Insight #1: The demands will always be there, but the struggle does not have to be.
It is ultimately us who perpetuate the struggle, not the other way around. There’s a reason that Sisyphus keeps pushing that rock up the hill… he’s secretly in love with its stone face. He’s so attached to it; he never realizes he can step aside and just let it roll on by. The compulsory struggle to keep up with everything (let alone “get ahead”), and the suffering we experience as a result, is rooted in misplaced thoughts and emotions often shaped unknowingly by traumas from the past perpetually triggered by pressures in the present without our conscious say so. Lost in our longstanding mechanisms of managing all the stuff in our overstuffed lives, it’s hard to ever find the means to silence these echoes of trauma on the surface so we can truly recognize how we feel in the here and now, and allow for our deeper awareness to guide us towards positive change.
Insight #2: Everything changes.
Suzuki Roshi, the enlightened founder of the San Francisco Zen Center summed this up pretty succinctly, when a student struggling to understand what Zen was all about, asked him if he could boil it down to a couple words. Without hesitation, Suzuki responded “Everything changes… next question.” From the day we enter this existence to the day we leave; our lives are defined by change. We’re either open to this truth, or we’re unknowingly resisting it. Much of our pain and struggle is rooted in our resistance to change, the defining characteristic of our lives.
Now what? What do I do with these insights? And how do I structure my life so fleeting epiphanies such as this can remain prevalent on a daily basis? I’m glad you asked. Here are some ideas that have begun to work for me.
Tip #1: Self-care
This term is used so often these days; so as to lose all meaning. But don’t let that detract from its importance. Self-care is any act that gets you out of your head, beyond the repetitive tracks of your (all too often negative) thoughts, and back into your body. For me, meditation, yoga, journaling, sailing, hiking, cooking a nourishing meal, and maybe watching a premier league soccer game or two all qualify. The important thing to remember is to build these self-care rituals into our routines so they can be done consistently each week, and ideally every day.
Tip #2: Support
This is a big one for me. Throughout my life I’ve assumed the role of needing to do everything myself, often to my own detriment, in order to substantiate my self-worth. I'm beginning to recognize how our inherent self-worth is independent of anything we have to prove. It's this understanding that allows us to ask for help and mentorship, when we truly do need it and even when we think we don’t. As Goethe put it, and more recently the mom from Almost Famous proclaimed, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Sometimes the boldest thing we can do is recognize that we need help and harness the courage to simply ask.
Tip #3: Boundaries
Another big one for me. Saying no to someone else is saying yes to yourself. But it’s much more than that. Recognizing what can be realistically accomplished within a certain timeframe and establishing the self-awareness and fierceness of spirit to hold firm on these lines with both yourself and others, along with the communications skills to convey them without offending either, holds the key to untold space and freedom.
Tip #4: Specialization
Dig your hole narrow and deep, instead of shallow and wide. Whatever you can do to set up your schedule and approach, so that you maximize the amount of time you can spend on the things you do the best, the greater your eventual impact and return will be. Steve Jobs gets right at the heart of this, in describing his ability to focus on his best ideas and make room for his greatest talents, by saying “I’m actually as proud of the things I haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things. You have to pick carefully.”
Tip #5: Daring
The courage and willingness to try new things, which can be as small as taking a new class or wearing a different style of clothes for a day, is the only way we really ever change and grow. This includes the willingness to change course when our long-held convictions no longer seem to be working as well as they once were. Kodak and Blackberry are business examples of this, both ultimately falling victim to their own self-assurance that no other way could possibly be better. Scheduling Creative Dates, as described in the amazing little book “The Artist Way” by Julia Cameron, are essenitally "dates" with ourselves where we set aside time to do something we enjoy and flow spontaneously with the universe. It's a great practice to open your heart and mind to new things on a consistent basis, because the things we don’t practice, we eventually lose.
Hopefully my unconscious episode with the bathroom sink can help spark some new ideas for awareness and evolution in your lives. It certainly has for me, and I’m reminded of it every morning as I lean over towards the bathroom sink to wash my face.