On New Year’s Day this past week I attended a 2-hour yoga workshop in which I had the opportunity to reflect a bit on the past year. After some journal writing and reflection, we did a yoga practice and then finished with a meditation practice.
I enjoyed the opportunity to “digest” a bit of the past year, to celebrate it and to consider my strengths, or any limiting beliefs. In the final meditation the word/concept “integrate/integration” kept emerging for me, and variations on that word: integrity, integral, etc. I started thinking about the root of that word (think of integer) which is to make whole.
That seems appropriate, since this past year felt in many ways like a dismantling and releasing of what was no longer serving me. Then on Sunday I had another impulse to de-clutter, and to organize in my office (not something that comes naturally to me) so I followed it.
I allowed myself some time and space to consider the objects and books I have collected. What is that path of curiosity telling me? Which things can I can release? I have tried following the Kon Mari approach to do this all in one big project (which can take up to 6 months, she writes). But I have found I follow more of a spiral or cyclical path when it comes to releasing things. And that is just fine.
Releasing is necessary because we hold onto so much that we no longer need. This can be physical stuff, but more often it is out-dated stories we tell ourselves. I find that is the more “sticky” of our stuff. It is easy to give bags of unused and unneeded things to Goodwill. But how often do we enter into our deep consciousness to see what is floating around in there, and question if we want to keep it there?
When I did a coaching series with Elizabeth Dickinson this past fall, she was able to identify a few of the beliefs (or stories) I had carried about money that did not match my current reality. What an amazing gift, to release an old story that was holding me back. At one point, that story may have had a purpose. But it was at least a decade out-of-date. So I started trying on a different story, reinforcing a new belief that serves me better.
What is it you may need to release in order to thrive in your life?
Now that the excitement of this midterm election has come to a close, it is time to rest and digest. After all the “aerobic” energy of the campaign and election season, and as we process the results, we must enter a season of pausing and reflecting.
I am relieved this election cycle is over. Some of the returns have yet to be finalized but I am happy to see that the turnouts were high, and more women were voted into office than ever before.
Though I did not get to bed very early because I was still watching election returns, I know I will need some down time to recover this week. I identify as an introvert, so I am aware of my need for more down time than the average person. I have found that if I approach life in terms of cycles of intense activity followed by adequate rest, I am able to make better decisions for the long-term.
Maybe it is a product of age or maturity but I feel like it is easier to see the big picture than it used to be. I recognize that it is necessary to regroup and recharge between the intervals of intensity. As it turns out, this is how we best deal with stress in our lives. Stress in itself is not bad, and is in fact necessary in a healthy life.
But chronic and unrelenting stress for long periods take a toll on our bodies, our immune systems and our mental health as well. So take a break, gather your energy, allow some time for reflection and recovery. We will live and be stronger in case we need to “fight” another day for important causes that matter to us.
Today seems like the perfect day to cover the topic of energy vampires. When you first read the title, did you get an image in your mind of anyone in particular in your life? Or an activity that can feel like a “vampire” – sucking the life-blood or energy out of you?
In my experience people or activities can function in ways that give us energy, or sometimes deplete energy. Sometimes this effect is not a result of the person specifically, but perhaps some thoughts we have about the person. For example, we all know that person who constantly complains about their lives. Nothing ever goes right for them. They are victims and life is unfair.
When we allow some compassion for them, acknowledging their sadness or distress, sometimes it can feel like they “feed” off our sympathy and continue to engage in their sad soliloquy. Other times, we want to cheer them up, so we do a “Tigger/Eeyore” type of interaction, which makes neither person feel better in the end. For me, I allow for empathy, but also acknowledge to myself that I am not the cause of their distress. While I may want to alleviate their suffering, sometimes it is better just to be a compassionate witness, and then move on.
Some activities can feel like energy vampires as well. For me, shopping for clothes has always been an energy-draining prospect. I don’t enjoy it, and I order nearly everything online. Sometimes I do need to go out and shop, but I find myself much happier when I minimize that activity. I also find it easier on the wallet not to shop for things I do not need!
What I find is that when I fill my time with people and activities that increase my energy, I have a lot less time for the others. It may not be possible to avoid them entirely. But it is important to make space for the vitality that comes from being around people, ideas, and activities that energize rather than drain.
Consider the people who fill you with energy, or the activities that bring you joy. How can you spend more time with these people, and do more of these activities? You may need to get creative with this question. I dare you to have fun with it.
On Wednesday I had an interview for a technology company that I like, but in a retail environment that would be a different experiences for me. On paper, it seemed very exciting. I liked considering the advantages of this part-time opportunity. I believed it would allow me to ramp up my other efforts a little more mindfully and without rushing.
The interview went well, and I even advanced to the next round with a higher leader in the organization. But as I was considering the nature of the work environment, and my preference for adequate personal space and solitude in every day, my body felt a noticeable depletion of energy rather than excitement.
I’d been excited the day before about getting called so quickly for the in-person interview after the phone interview. I am eager to learn the technology, and to help people use it better, the original reason I pursued the position. Also, they were seeking bilingual Spanish speakers and it would be an opportunity to keep my skills sharp. But the thought of an 8-hour shift “out in the open” on a retail floor made me feel drained and tired.
That is okay. I would not necessarily have been able to visualize and imagine myself in the setting to consider whether it is a fit without actually being there and observing. My body is giving me signals to help me figure out the next steps for myself. Typically when I pay attention to my energy levels, and move in the direction where the energy lifts rather than falls, I am happier.
I thought that learning and practicing sales and marketing techniques would be good for my own business. But there are other ways to do this, and I will not give up on that idea.
I may need to reinforce some limits around my writing time, allowing myself just an hour each day. At least while I am still working full time in clinical research. I can lose literally hours off the clock when I am researching or writing on a topic that interests me, and I get to play with words, ideas and stories.
This week I am at a regional work meeting in Belgium and I am called upon social with my colleagues. I enjoy the opportunity to meet 1:1 or in small groups and have face-to-face conversations with those I usually interact with via phone or email. However all of the initial small-talk required when meeting so many new people drains my energy.
It occurs to me that maybe my soul is asking for a more minimalist approach to work networking and people-time, and this is another reason I am bringing this current phase of work to a close by September.
I feel at my best when I am doing “deep work” which involves thinking, reading, writing and synthesizing research. I still intend to make time for teaching, offering workshops and facilitating small group meetings. But my best ideas and most productive periods seem to emerge after periods of luxurious solitude and reflection.
This summer I am planning for 4-6 weeks off starting in August/September, if I can make it work between work “ventures.” Let’s see if I can honor that and keep the personal and family budget discipline it will require to make this break happen without undue stress.
I know if I declare this intention in writing, there is a higher likelihood I can make it happen. I am not as good at having accountability to others (it can sometimes cause me to rebel), but I tend to be better at honoring my word to myself.
What makes you lose hours off the clock? Do you have a creative practice or hobby that, when you start working on it, causes you to lose all track of time?
This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.
The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.
Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.
I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.
On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.
Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.
We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.
We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.
Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends?
I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.