Stir the soul, learn everyday

You know that moment when you learn something new, or maybe realize an old thought? A light turns on brightly, maybe more inside your head, rather than a bulb dangling above it. This lightbulb moment is also famously called an ahhhhaaa moment by Oprah. She uses this word to accentuate an important point one of her guests makes, during Super Soul Conversations. I’m afraid the narrator in my mind, when I am reading a book, is not so overt. There is no announcement of the stuff I should pay attention to, I just feel it. A stirring in my soul. That is when I know I’ve hit on a big idea, which I must try to remember.

The trick is not just to remember this enlightening new tidbit, but to somehow incorporate this new learning into my life. This is the challenge. Change is oh so difficult and if you feel like you are barely keeping it together as it is, any deviation to the routine is so stressful, I might as well be planning to go to the moon. It simply seems impossible. Inertia keeps us in place.

For most of my adult life, I’ve held fast to many preconceived notions. The status quo, the rules of thumb and the myriad of other little short cuts which helped me get through the day. Some have served me well and others have bound me tight in their antiquated ideology. It is a strange place to be found in, because I came of age in the 1980’s. A time of conspicuous consumption and the ‘me’ generation at the height of their power. A relentless pursuit of greater wealth, one person competing against the next, with an almost bloodlust fever. I watched it all unfold and thought that won’t be me. And yet, here I am, looking pretty much the same as the rest of society.

It is not all bad. The relentless work ethic. The ability to firmly fix my gaze on the prize. The ability to compete. Confidence. These qualities and habits have landed me squarely where I am today. Along with my wonderful family, I have a nice house in a great neighbourhood. I travel extensively for work and often for pleasure. We have all the latest technology gadgets and quite honestly want for nothing. I should be, by the scorecard, on cloud 9.

Unfortunately, no-one really details the pitfalls. A crushing work schedule with international long-haul travel on top. No end in sight, what was the goal anyway? Is it important to me or the company? Can I tell the difference anymore? Why do I look at every situation as a race? Why is there always a winner and the rest are losers?

I never wanted to be that self sacrificing woman who did everything for everyone else. Over time that kind of person started to feel resentful. The relationships she thought she was building turned against her. She was left alone with her fancy job. Not much to fall back on emotionally. She had tried to be a superwoman and failed. The deck was stacked against her and she was set-up to fail. But, that knowledge will come later.

Gift_From_The_Sea_OriginalOn summer vacation, most Westerners are able to take a real break. Scandinavians get 5 weeks. In Canada, we get 2 or 3, if we are lucky. Most Americans get less, if they take them at all. It was as my family vacation in Alberta was drawing to a close, I started to worry about returning work. I could not enjoy my last hours away. I was pre-stressing myself into a lather. I voiced my concerns about this to my Aunt. She disappeared for a time. Then she returned with a book for me to read, easily accomplished in an afternoon. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, “Gift from the Sea”. A delight. As the pages started to fall away, I was amazed that something written so long ago was still so relevant. I immediately ordered my own copy. I was also taken by the fact that my Aunt could so easily put her finger on the pulse of my problem. She had answers at the ready. 

It is a gift to be able to help others. Especially when the “others” are me and feeling down or otherwise uninspired. My vacation ended on such a high note, I almost floated home. I guess the only trick is, how to make this feeling last and apply these kind of lessons when life gets tough and stressful again. 

There was a single thought, which bubbled up – carve out time for myself. Be strict and relentless about this. A small bit of everyday, some time each week and then a big commitment each year. A vacation by yourself. A lifting of all responsibilities. Be with silence and solitude. Re-kindle the most important relationship you have, the one with yourself.

For women who already have a good self-care practice, this probably seems ridiculous to read. But, studies show that women, in particular are terrible at practicing good self-care habits. The benefits are well known and yet we resist. Our habits are so deeply engrained and our behaviour is so expected by others, making a change feels akin to being told to move a mountain.

As I practice ‘my time’ each day and each week, I become a better person to everyone else. Maybe it is not noticeable to them, but I feel better. I am happier to give of myself knowing that I can restore the balance. This represents a work-life balance for me. It is not that work is an enemy to be minimized. It is that my personal life has to come to the fore and be held in the highest regard, even though it will not get nearly as much time attention as work does.

Now I am more excited about serving others. I want to harness the power of the wise women around me. They are so brave and generous in sharing with others. It is an honour to help solve the daily mysteries for one person with insights from another. There is deep satisfaction in restoring a balance of working and living that makes sense to each and is not a prescribed formula. Fill up our cups with inspiration. Help us continue to serve and help others. 

It sure seems as if what we need to learn most, comes to us at the perfect moment. Just when we are ready to receive, ready to become teachers. At least for me, that is how my vacation unfolded.

“I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. I find I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.” 

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

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