Today, I want you to turn off the t.v and the radio, switch your mobile phone to silent, and put down your responsibilities for a few minutes. For just that moment, let everything around you drift away. Maybe you’ll need to lock yourself in the toilet or take a shower while you do this – to block out inevitable interruptions. Maybe you could take the stairs at work, while everyone else is charging for the elevator. Or sit in the car for a moment after school drop off. Regardless, wherever you find yourself, whatever you are doing, today I want you to take time to hit the ‘pause button’. Stand or sit exactly where you are and… take a deep breath in and then slowly let it out. And repeat… ten times.
It’s ok to acknowledge the million thoughts clamouring for your attention, but don’t give them safe harbour. Let them slip by, unanchored. There is nothing you need to do. There is nowhere else you need to be. Just be right here. In this moment. In this calm. This is all there is. For ten, glorious, deep, life-sustaining breaths.
When you are ready, come back. But, before you do…
I want you to make a conscious decision about those responsibilities, those ‘life-packages’, that you just put down when you hit ‘pause’.
What if you didn’t pick up where you left off… before those ten, deep breaths? Would it really matter if the house wasn’t vacuumed today? If there was no tick beside that item? Would anyone die in a ditch if the dishwasher wasn’t unpacked and everything put away right this second? Are you really on the clock for how quickly you can answer your emails or respond to text messages? Is someone hovering nearby with white gloves to check whether you dusted the skirting boards? And would it be a show-stopper if you didn’t get to the dry cleaners? Particularly if by not doing those activities you have a more fulfilling experience today?
I believe that too often we are lured by an endless list of errands and responsibilities. We stack them haphazardly one on top of the other, without giving ourselves time to consider whether we really need to be actioning them. And with every ‘to do’ item we add to our list, we also add a worry.
Over time, those ‘to do’ lists have become score sheets by which we judge ourselves. Harshly.
No doubt, like me, you were raised on a myriad of clichés that became an intricate part of your belief system. It took me nearly half a century to sort through these teachings and decide whether I wanted to continue to carry them with me or leave them at my feet. Amongst them was the biblical saying ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’. It took a long time to understand that this had instilled a sense that my virtue was reflected in my level of productivity. It took even longer to understand that it was actually through stillness that I would come closer to grace, to peace, to myself.
I also grew up hearing that “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.” Yet watching my cousin fold laundry the other day, I realised this simply wasn’t true. She got the job done, even if everything looked like roughly folded origami creations. And whereas I laboriously take every item to it’s final destination, she casually piled everything into a single basket and put it on the landing for the family to swoop down on as required like seagulls. This also challenged my belief of “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”. Or more importantly, even that being the case, it is not necessarily my sole responsibility to ensure order.
“Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done today” is another saying that has dogged me throughout life. I understand that at its heart is the philosophy – ‘live as though there is no tomorrow’, but for the most part this has become a twisted anthem used by teachers and employers to encourage productivity. And so, one by one, I have untangled these ‘life lessons’ from my belief system.
To be clear, there is no universal scale for this apparent ‘perfection’ for which we are all too often striving. The scoresheet exists only inside our own heads. How nice it would be to just lay down that particular ‘life-package’ and never pick it up again. Imagine if today your only ‘to do’ item was to liberate yourself from this relentless and, frankly, ridiculous quest for being the perfect mum, sister, daughter, housewife, aunt, friend – woman.
If I could convince you of one thing in this moment, it would be that You Are Enough.
Your worth is not measured by the clean landscape of your house. It is not in the number of emails answered and thank you cards written. Your value as a human being is not based on whether you made it to the gym and still managed to get dinner on the table by 630.
When you are old and all you have are memories, ask yourself whether you want them to be of errands run, chores completed and obligations met. There is nothing perfect in a life full of ‘have to’ moments. In responsibilities and duty and keeping up appearances. Where as there are, arguably, perfect moments when we let go of the perfectionism that is weighing us down and just allow ourselves ‘to be’.
Sipping wine with your lover while watching the sunset. Reading to your children before lights out. Cuddling with your hubby on the lounge. Eating chocolate while drinking a hot cup of tea. Feeling the grass tickling your toes. Floating on your back in the pool on a hot summer day. The shape of an autumn leaf. Your child’s laughter when you played fort with them.
Cleaning the house on Saturday mornings my mum used to instruct my brother and I to “Imagine the Queen is coming to visit.” I was well into my thirties before I realised that I was still cleaning / presenting the house as though Her Royal Majesty (HRM) was about to pop by for afternoon tea. Never going to happen – FACT. And with that realisation there was suddenly more time for sipping champagne and reading one of my favourite novels or magazine (Womankind).
So let there be no rush to reconnect, to tune in, to ‘do’. Look out of yourself to that around you and decide what it is you really need to attend to right now.
And then, and only then, act.