So if you read my December blog post, Daring to Dream again or you have spoken to me recently you might know that I am on a short “sabbatical”. No, I am not off to find myself. I think I have a good idea of who I may be, pimples, wrinkles, cellulite and all.
This time off is more to air my brain and pump my heart. I define “airing the brain” as the overdue effort that every human must make to clean out all the mildew, clear the deck, throw the junk so you can come back to the war front, ready and willing. In the past, I would swing from one vine to the next with maybe two weeks of transition between jobs. That time was hardly enough to clear the garage or unpack from a hectic and rushed vacation.
This time off has been a gift to myself that I have earned. Of course, I have discovered a few simple pleasures of slowing down.
1. I hear you
The other day I called my parents in India and instead of cleaning the dishes with my neck bent over unnaturally, I sat back, sipped my coffee, actually listened and had a conversation. When I put the phone down, I realized I hadn’t done this for a long time. The act of being completely present and respectful during a conversation. It is not just with your family, it is with every one around. I have accrued so many deferred lunches, coffees and catch ups, that had I mapped that to a credit card, I might be hauled to court for unpaid bills. Relationships still need to be maintained the old fashioned way. No matter the advances in social technology tools, your true clout will increase only if you invest your attention.
Our world has become a compression of everything. Micro blogs, instant pictures, abbreviated texts, staccato calls, rushed meals…that we think if our time does not have the ROI of 3X that it is being wasted. My daughter texted me the other day when I told her that we couldn’t attend some concert. She said “Mom! YOLO!!” I wonder what is the definition of speed to her generation where all fat is trimmed and all communication condensed.
2. My virtual world is not World of Warcraft
Before the advent of gaming, my virtual world shifted from one day to another. Pemberley, Thornfield Hall, Mordor, Ayodya. There was Alice, Peter, Scarlett, Sita. Over the years, instead of finishing, I found that I had started accumulating books that I would defer for another day. By the time I would hit my bed exhausted and still anxious about work not completed, I would read two pages and doze off. So Blink took one month, The Power of Habit is still calling my name, and I am yet to finish Cutting for Stone.
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” Anne Lamott
I have bookmarked pages, downloaded pdfs and highlighted videos telling myself that someday I will find the time to get to all this great content. You have to finish what you start or you will have a series of unfinished sentences, unwritten books, unclaimed emotions, unused gifts and untethered dreams.
Now I can read, take a class, or find out why Joan Didion kept a notebook or what Susan Sontag thought about love by going through brainpickings.org and not feel guilty about it.
3. One body for this one Life
My daughter has a mid morning break where she forgets about Math, US History and how an apple defined gravity. Instead she heads to the playground with her friends for some fun time. It is called exercising the body after exhausting the brain. I put this up on my FB wall recently to remind myself that the car needed maintenance.
I want to apologize for treating you so callously.
I have run you down.
I have starved you sometimes and then binged some.
The little water I have given you was an after thought.
I have not walked you enough or given you fresh air.
I have forced you to sit slumped over a desk without a break and fried your brain with my cell phone.
I have driven you crazy with stress and worry. I have raised your blood pressure with anger and frustration.
I have deprived you of adequate sleep on many nights.
Yet you have rarely let me down.
Please take me back, my best friend. I promise I will dedicate this year to your good health.
With all my gratitude
4. Staring into the distance
Please don’t hate me as you are reading this especially if you are in crisis mode. I used to be in crisis mode. Now I look outside my window or walk around and let the fresh air jumpstart my tired brain and my jaded eyes. Ideas only hang out in well ventilated spaces. Some are brilliant, some impractical, some whimsical.
Daniel Gilbert states “We live in a world in which people are censured, demoted, imprisoned, beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That’s the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas.”
The other day, I wrote an entire framework for my next business only to find that after 24 hours I wasn’t excited about it. But the best part is that there are more ideas from where that came from. I just had to slow down to listen and now I am cataloguing it more diligently.
5. Memory muscle
“How did I miss that?” No matter how much I tried to keep up with all the planners and the gadgets, that refrain was constant in my brain. Hamstering was part of my parenting act. “Did you do your homework.” “Did I sign her up for Taikwondo?” “We have two recitals in two different schools on one evening?”
Many times it was missing a whole chunk of a dialogue because I was busy working on a launch deadline or something else while my child was explaining something. You know how children talk. They start right at the beginning when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and then they get tired of their own story and by the time it gets to the end, they forget to tell you the time, date and the key details. But if you are listening, you remember to prompt and ask the right questions.
Now I get to chauffeur, listen to them instead of getting on a conference call and not worry about rushing back.
6. Write me a river
What is great to see is the way so many have embraced writing. So easy to blog. So easy to write on your wall. So easy to Photoshop, Instagram, Vine and Storify. So easy to capture what should not be forgotten. The undeniable truth of our existence and our visibility. In his brilliant book Stumbling for Happiness, Daniel Gilbert adds “Our inability to recall how we really felt is why our wealth of experiences turns out to be poverty of riches.”
There is an attic and a basement in each of us, stored with unrivaled wisdom that will be thrown away when we finally meet our maker. This time out is my own Dumbledore’s pensieve where strands of memory are recollected, shaped and then formed into words to inhabit paper.
Of course the icing on the “sabbatical” cake is being able to go grocery shopping in the mornings, take care of other traffic light errands, reconnect with friends for lunch and stand in line without fretting at the DMV.