On Slowing Down

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“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?” – Rumi

It’s a beautiful summer morning, clear and still cool. I’m sitting outside on our patio, sipping tea and listening to the birds, watching the sun catch the tops of the cedars, and counting my blessings for the holiday time that stretches before me. Now I can really slow down. 

We’re in a season of transition for everyone in our house: the youngest boys have just finished finished middle school, our 18-year-old graduated a couple of weeks ago from high school, and our eldest completed his undergraduate degree and graduated in mid-June. In the middle of all this, my husband was offered a new job. June was crazy.

Now, with the year-end concerts and celebrations and graduation ceremonies behind us, I feel as though I can take a deep breath and unwind. But as I sit with my  tea, listening to the distant voices of neighbours drifting through the trees, I’m not feeling the calm I expected. In the quiet of the morning, I’m noticing anxiety fluttering within.

And this is the big surprise for me about slowing down: it doesn’t automatically leave me feeling all calm and centred and grounded. When I slow down, I also notice less comfortable states. Hello sadness. Hello anxiety. No wonder it’s so easy for me to keep myself busy.

When I began my journey toward simplicity, I wanted to reduce the stress and distraction of a too-busy life. I wanted to feel calm and healthy and centred. I began slowing down in a very deliberate way, saying no to additional work and social obligations, and making space for meditation and journalling, walks in the woods and extra rest. Slowing down has definitely been a pathway toward greater calm. I just didn’t anticipate where else it would take me.

Today it’s a fluttering of anxiety. Some days it’s sadness. Those uncomfortable states I’d rather avoid. But somehow in slowing down, there’s also patience and compassion enough for me to stay with the feelings and explore them a little. What’s that fluttering in my stomach? Anxiety? What’s that all about?

Slow down and listen. Underneath today’s anxious flutterings is some sadness. My middle boy has finished high school and I’m watching as he takes his first adult steps away from me. My impulse is to hold on tightly. And I know that I can’t. I know that my work now is to stand back and let him stand on his own. It’s the way things are supposed to be – and it’s unbearably sad for me.

When I’m running at full speed, I can ignore these states, the anxiety, the sadness. When I slow down, I can’t help but notice what’s happening. I have to pay attention. And if I’m patient with myself, gentle, I can live a while with the feelings that arise. I can hear what they’re telling me, let them inform my direction.

Today I might give myself some time to celebrate the adult that my son is becoming – and to grieve the inevitable endings that come along with this passage. I might pour another cup of tea and sit outside a little longer, listening to the birds, listening for the wisdom that sometimes comes in slowing down.

 

10 Steps toward Simplicity

 

simplicityIf you’re looking for a simplicity guru, I am not your girl. I’m actually the girl who has spent most of her life trying to make things as complicated as possible. Really.

In the year before I began my simplicity project, I juggled a demanding full-time job, a blended family, and a health condition requiring monthly visits to a specialist in Vancouver (a two-hour ferry ride away). I began two big new writing projects and participated in an online writers’ group. I took golf lessons, a semester-long photography course, and an intensive writing workshop. I had surgery and I published my book, An Alphabet of Men: Dating My Way from Adam to Zak (a book about the  year when I took complication to dizzying new heights).

As you can see, simplicity hasn’t really been my thing.

But after a difficult surgery, and a longer-than-anticipated recovery, I realized that maybe things had become a teeny bit out of hand.

Okay, maybe I realized that I was exhausted and strung out, and that I wasn’t going to get better if I kept up this frantic pace in my life.

And so my Year of Simplicity began. Here are 10 small steps I’ve taken in the first three months of my journey:

1. Find inspiration

I started by reading Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. Their stories provided me with the insight and the inspiration to begin. They also reminded me that embracing simplicity takes time, critical information for somebody who would most certainly have set out to declutter her entire house in a single weekend.

2. Identify the longing

My Year of Simplicity began as a deep longing for things to be different, and before I began, I had to get to the heart of what simplicity looked like for me. I knew I was ready to give up on crazy, super-busy, frantic distraction. That was pretty clear. But I needed to know exactly what I was hoping to feel instead: calm, centered, and grounded.

3. Create a Yes and No list

So what was I saying yes to? Rest. Journalling. Calm. I was saying yes to space, stillness and silence. Yes to paring down, to knowing I was enough and had enough. I was saying yes to breath and trust and freedom.

And no? I was saying no to busyness, distraction and over-commitment. No to clutter and people pleasing and striving. No to controlling everything in my life.

It’s good, it turns out, to be really clear about these things.

4. Keep reminders at hand

The home screen on my phone is a photo that embodies simple living for me. The first pages of the journal I write in every morning have reminders about why I’m embracing simplicity. You’ll find my Yes and No list there, and a simple graphic surrounded by all the words that describe my version of simplicity.

5. Say no

This seems so simple, but remember, simplicity hasn’t really been my thing. I’m a lifelong “yes girl.” If there’s an invitation, an opportunity, the possibility of an adventure, I’m all in. “No” is hard for me. But I’m learning, and my late-November surgery helped. I had to turn down every single Christmas invitation (and, sadly, all the middle school band concerts) on the calendar. Rather than feeling like I was missing out, I felt liberated, loving the slower pace of that particular Christmas season. It’s made it easier to say no since.

 

6. Let go of being a workplace star

This is a recurring challenge for me. Not only am I a lifelong yes girl, I’m also far more concerned than I should be about what other people think of me. I know it’s none of my business. But saying no at work has meant having to let go of my super-competent workplace armour.

This is not comfortable at all for me.

What if someone thinks I’m not working hard enough? What if someone thinks I’m lazy? What if someone – heaven forbid! – doubts my capability?  In my journey toward greater simplicity, this continues to be one of my biggest struggles. But what I’m also learning is that I can’t do as much as I once thought I could. And in the end, I’d rather do fewer things well, even at the risk of losing star status.

7. Do one thing at a time

You can imagine how somebody like me might do with a step like this. Yes. Definitely another big challenge. I started by clearing the pile of 5 or 6 books on my bedside table, committing to read one book at a time. At first I felt twitchy and kept reaching for my Kindle, with its library of hundreds of books. But I’m gradually rediscovering the pleasure of fully immersing myself in the pleasure of a single book. And the biggest surprise is that I’m reading more. The challenge, of course, is to apply the “one thing” approach to other parts of my life.

8. Unsubscribe

This has been an easy and hugely liberating step for me. In my quest to live a healthier, greener, more creative, simpler, more soul-satisfying, more productive life (!!), I had ended up on a shocking number of subscriber lists. And while I could rely on weekly tips for making my website more effective and for preparing delicious green smoothies, all those emails were taking an enormous toll on my psychic energy. One of the beautiful things about unsubscribing is that I have a much greater sense that I am enough. Even without the smoothie recipe.

9. Rest

Another great gift of my surgery was that I realized how exhausted I was. These days, sleep is a priority, and I’m a complete convert to yoga nidra, a form of rest meditation that is transformative.

10. Check in

Every few weeks, I check in during Morning Pages. Three months in, I am calm, centered, and clear about my purpose. But I can see that I’ll need to be vigilant, or I’ll easily backslide into complication and distraction. It isn’t easy to change the habits of a lifetime.