Six Simple Pleasures during my Sabbatical

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.

Dear Body,
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.
Spiral of time. Courtesy vladimirkush.com

Spiral of time.
Courtesy vladimirkush.com

7 for Spring

The idea for this post had originated on Facebook which I had likened to my virtual living room. It started simply enough. After visiting mail jail again, I had put an update out that went something like this “Don’t be an email hoarder. Junk those emails that are more than 6 months old. It aint relevant no more.” Soon my friends were commenting and I thought hey maybe there are more tips out there.

Here are Shaku’s Magnificent Seven as my limerick loving friend, Manjul puts it.

Spring cleaning tip #1
Keep what is important throw away the rest. Or the trivial will make all what is important trivial.

As I had to start clearing out emails from years past, I was horrified to find out that I was a secret email hoarder. These emails that were jamming my inbox and my outbox about things that nobody even cared about. Though I tried to have folders, I realized that if you don’t clear regularly, you end up cramming your life with so much that is trivial that you lose sight of what is important. This applies from emails, to tasks, to meetings, to lists, to pantries, to refrigerators. I love the Stephen Covey big rock little pebble analogy. Attend to the important and the trivial will sort itself. Ask that question. Is this important? Should I waste XX time over this. Is this argument important or is it trivial. Can I let it go? Do I have to add another after school activity for my kids, can we not just focus on a select few. Once you decide, make peace with the decision. I was watching Robin Sharma’s vlog and he says that every year his team decides on what they should focus on and then even if opportunties come by they get tough and only pick up what aligns with their focus areas.

Spring cleaning tip #2
Apply the 70:30 relationship principle. Spend 70% of your time with the 30% who matter.

This is so simple, right. So how come we have trouble applying this principle. I know some folks who make this a priority. Others think they have all the time in the world. Growing up, all I remember is my Dad telling us that we were the most important people in his life and that he was happy spending his time after work with us. Of course, that meant that we would get dragged to all these boring parties with people who would peer at us and say “Oh Selva, what charming daughters you have.” or “So when are you getting her married.” Like I was some invisible object waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, the point is, he made it clear that there were a few people who were important to him and that was that. We all know about Harry Chapin and the Cat’s in the Cradle. “When you comin home, Dad.” “I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then, son. You know we’ll have a good time then.” Who, why, when and where. You and in the now with those you love because time flies.

Spring cleaning tip #3
Make friends with yourself. If you don’t enjoy your own company then why should anyone else be interested in you.

Ask yourself this key question. If you had one hour to spend. Would you spend it doing nothing or rushing off to make a phone call, picking up groceries or making a long to do list that made you feel good. Of course, you have to do all the things you have to do. Or bills would be unpaid, careers floating in the toilet bowl, dishes piled up, laundry languishing in the dryer etc. Yes, yes, I know. Been there, doing that and keep doing that everyday. But do you seek yourself out. Do you enjoy just sitting down and allowing your mind to roam. To think, to understand. To replay your reactions to certain incidents. Take a ten minute walk alone everyday. If you can’t walk, then go out and sit in a quiet space. Lock yourself in your closet. You don’t need to close your eyes and Om. You just need to get one step to understanding yourself and your motivations. Why, because understanding yourself brings you one step closer to understanding your reactions to others. When you do that constantly you will stop being on the defensive.

Spring cleaning tip #4
Let go of toxic emotional cellulite. Get rid of BAGgage. Bitterness | Anger | Guilt.

Travel light.

This one belongs to a good friend of mine. Rules of engagement for relationships. Like that Katy Perry song, hot and you’re cold, up and you’re down. We fight we make up, we kiss we break up. This is true for most relationships. Friends, family, lovers. Over the years we have accumulated so much emotional cellulite that sits like a camel’s hump on your back. This cellulite is a living, breathing alien that is made up of bitterness, anger, guilt, jealousy and it is dormant and when you least expect it, it will send out a volley of spite. How do you break regular cellulite, by regular exercise, eating right and it takes time, but at some point your body starts to show the results. With emotional cellulite you have to pretty much do the same. You make a conscious effort to trace the affected areas. Recognition is key. Awareness. Followed by honesty. You have own it and then shield, forgive and love. Forgive yourself and ask for forgiveness and then let it go. Every day is a new day to do it differently.

Spring cleaning tip #5
Recall faded dreams and unused gifts. Plant new seeds of possibility. Doesn’t Spring symbolize resurrection?

This one is my personal favorite. I was wandering in my garden discovering new plants and amazed at how quickly growth took place with branches sprouting green. I felt like Jack waking up to that overnight beanstalk. You go for a walk and you see more people smile at you because that is what fairweather brings with it. Spring, flirting birds, blue skies and butterflies make people happy. Just like nature is resurrecting around us, this is fertile soul environment to start something new. Plant a project dear to your heart in the garden of your heart. Invest in it and feel the emotional wellness. The common thread is people saying well I don’t really know what I like or what I want to do. But if you go to tip # 3 and spend some time with yourself you will figure it out sooner than you think. There is something that each one of us will do before we tackle the mundane tasks in our lives. For me, I am sitting here on a Friday night, writing. Some like scrapbooking, others want to open their own restaurant, others want to play in a band. So you may not be able to fund a restaurant, perhaps you join a cooking club. You may not have time to play in a band, perhaps you could learn an instrument. Or you may decide to leap and follow, like Martha Beck would say, your North Star.

Spring cleaning tip #6
Go 3D. Drop the entitlement. Defend your boundaries. Deny energy vampires.

The problem with entitlement is that makes us all a bunch of whiners. It is quite tiring to hang around people who constantly expect to be served a slice of some imaginary pie that was supposed to be baked by someone else.
We have heard this many times and we still let people invade our boundaries. We end up getting into a loop where they invade, we submit and then we complain.
What can I say about energy vampires that hasn’t been stated so many times. These aren’t even Edward Cullen cute. You don’t have to wear garlic around your neck but you do have to figure out the Debbie downers and disengage. According to James Redfield and his ground breaking novel The Celestine Prophecy, we typically steal energy from each other engaging in four key control dramas. So ask yourself, are you dealing with a “poor me” or “the aloof” or “the critic” or “the intimidator”. Each one has a way of drawing energy and each encounter will leave you tired.

Spring cleaning tip #7
Create and own your personal mantra. If you want it, chant it.

Find a quiet spot and create your affirmation to bring renewed energy to that area of your life that needs a makeover. I can’t tell you how many times, I have written it down and let it go. A year would have passed and when I go back and read it, I am always amazed at the gifts that have come to pass. Say you want to sell your house, write down exactly what you want from the sale.
But there has to be a clause that is part of every mantra that you ask for it to be aligned to your greatest good. Many times we can’t see the bigger picture. We can only see the present because the past is over and we are not meant to peek into the future.

There is a common link across the wisdom of ages, that you have to align with the passion for life. Nature resurrects every spring. Demeter goes insane looking for Persephone during winter and finds her and rejoices in Spring. She unveils her Spring masterpiece every year…without demur, without fanfare, without complaint, without resistance, without judgement.

When you do what you do just because you enjoy it, that is the spark that sets off a chain reaction. The more you fret about what everyone thinks of you, the less you are able to trust yourself.

This quote from Joseph Campbell sums it up so well “When you go through life … it all seems accidental at the time it is happening. Then when you get on in your 60s or 70s and look back, your life looks like a well-planned novel with a coherent theme. Incidents that seemed accidental, pure chance, turn out to be major elements in the structuring of this novel. Who wrote this novel? You did.”

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The Arrival of the Flower Ship: Picture courtesy Vladimir Kush Art