Friday, October 29, 2010

Creating a More Spacious Life

(This is a picture from the top of a mountain, taken when my son Gabe asked me, spontaneously, to drive up and join him at his campsite for dinner one evening. Because there was "margin" in my life, I could accept the invitation and it will always be one of my best memories with my boy.)

A wise friend of mine once said, "First, there is the life you learn from; then, there is the life you live."

If that is true, then one of the things I gleaned in The Life I Learned From is that I blossom best in certain environments. My "element" is being in a loving marriage; prioritizing time with family and dear friends; plenty of free time with breathing space for creativity and rest, particularly after a day of giving or focusing on others. One of the perks of hitting mid-life, it seems to me, should be designing a life you love waking up to, based on all those decades of learning about what brings out your best self.

I have experienced what it feels like to have 5000 people standing and applauding a speech I just gave. I know what it is like to write books that thousands of people read and enjoy. And it was wonderful. But it was nothing compared to the "story "my four year old grandson Nate dictated to me last week, where he had me write: "Nonnie and me have been BEST friends." I have lived widely; now I want to live deeply. I've lived large;now I cherish one on one time with family, fewer friends, fewer activities, fewer projects. And I want to savor and enjoy what I do include in my life much more.

If you resonate with this and want to create more breathing room in your life in general, to do less but do it with focus and care, here's one way to begin the journey.

Make 3 Lists.

In list #1: write down the activities & people that you love AND that leave you energized.

In list #2: write down the activities and people that you feel passionate about, and want to prioritize, but... if you are honest, they are energy drainers. That's okay, you want these things or people in your life, but you need to preserve energy for them.

In list #3: write down activities and people you do not enjoy at all, but feel an obligation to keep in your life, either out of guilt or necessity.

Now, take a hard look at List #3. Take your time, this doesn't have to be done in a day.
Now, see if you can do one of three things with this last list:

1. Cross it out and fuggedaboutit
2. Delegate it or if you can afford to -- hire it out. Or barter it away with creative trading.
3. If you have to do the activity or see this person -- see if you can minimize the amount of time it (or the person) takes, or minimize the amount of brain space or emotional energy you "rent" to it. Or, make seeing the person or handling the task more enjoyable by rewarding yourself either during or shortly afterwards with something pleasurable and restorative.

For example, one of the activities I don't yet enjoy very much is exercising. But, if I can listen to an audio book as I walk, or chat and walk with my husband, it is easier. Even pleasurable. I could also reward myself in some way. Perhaps after a week of walking 10 miles, I treat myself to a cute work-out T shirt. Or I walk to Starbucks and reward myself with a cold Tazo tea and a healthy treat when I arrive.

If you have friend or relative whom you care about, but find yourself stressed or drained after time with them, see if you can orchestrate your time with them in a way that is less mentally exhausting. Can you see a movie or meet at a restaurant, rather than having them to your home where they may tend to linger too long? Can you kill two birds with one stone, and walk with them as you talk, rather than sitting and talking?
Also, on days when you have to do a lot of List #2 or #3 items, try to space them apart with days that have more List #1 items. When given a choice, cushion your difficult days or high energy days with days of ease or pleasure.

You may think that if you just push, push, push without breaks that you'll get more done or get all caught up. News Flash: The Land of All Caught Up is like Neverland or the Land of Oz. It never really arrives and when you look back on your life; trust me, you don't want to look back in regret, having missed the moments that make it worth the journey.

Truth is: I write better and generate more creative ideas when I take time to be with friends who energize me. I counsel and listen more deeply and love others with more focus when I've taken time to be alone and have filled my tank by reading, or journaling or simply putzing around doing whatever I want to do at any given moment. I'd even go out on a limb and say that when I live my life with more pleasurable spaces, between the more energy-draining stuff, that I get twice as much accomplished. Because I'm more fully present and energized for the tasks at hand, they get done with more ease and less angst.

Finally, for myself, I'd like enough free space or margin in my life that I can graciously adjust to an interruption, a real pressing need that pops up. I'd like to be, in a word... more available. Somebody needs to be available in a world when everyone is so busy they can hardly take time to breathe, much less slow down enough to soothe a hurt, or rock a baby, bring a casserole, or listen deeply to a child's inner thoughts. I realize this was not always possible when I was raising small children and juggling a busy career; so I am enormously grateful to finally be able to live a more spacious life.
"Actually,margin is not a spiritual necessity. But availability is. God expects us to be available for the needs of others. And without margin, each of us would have great difficulty guaranteeing availability. Instead, when God calls, He gets a busy signal." from the book Margin by Dr.Richard Swenson

1 comment:

  1. Hello there, awesome post. I did acted on making my life better and more organized and I realized that the biggest factor was putting things together that make me happy and be inspired. It really made this small space (workstation or yoga room) really special and what it is- a happy place!