I do almost everything FAST. I walk fast. I eat fast. I talk fast. I think fast. Regrettably, I drive fast. When I moved to Maine from New York City I felt like I’d landed on the “Slow Planet.” Drivers on local roads coming from opposite directions would wind down from a frenetic 20 miles an hour to a dead stop, and have a conversation with each other while everyone behind them would wait patiently, never beeping their horns. (?) Cashiers at checkout counters would wrap every purchased item as though it was made of 14 karat gold, then fish around for the right bag, all while shooting the breeze with me. People on elevators would wait courteously while others filed out first – all in slow motion.
Where I came from in New York I was typical – everyone rushing around everywhere as though North Korea had finally launched an ICBM with a big warhead on it headed toward NYC. With millions of people around, it always felt normal and necessary to be quick on the draw! So the transition to the “Slow Planet” has been a challenge. Not only that, but in my line of work as a psychotherapist slow is often needed to be attuned. Clients don’t want to feel they’re playing “Beat the Clock” in their precious time with me, so I’ve had to be mindful of pace and intensity there as well.
The good news is that I’ve found an anti-zoom antidote to “Fast” through kayaking, which I’d highly recommend to everyone. Even though my kayak is capable of moving very quickly and efficiently through water it feels like an oxymoron to be doing “fast” there. What’s the rush? There’s no email or texts calling, as service if often nil, no laundry, no dishes, no blogposts, no bills, no nothing except the beauty of the water, the mysteries under the surface, the cottages on the shore, the breeze, and the lapping, rhythmic sound of my paddle pushing me gently forward. Unless you’re an olympic contender for “speed kayaking,” (don’t think that actually exists….), there’s no point in being fast when you’re in that realm. Calm reigns and stress is quieted. Reflection and being present in the moment is natural. I’m finally home, and you will be too, where “Slow” is the gift……
I work with several couples who love each other and want their relationships to thrive and grow, but they don’t put much effort into planning quality time together. “Busyness” has become a major rationale for many couples, as they balance the multiple roles of employee or business owner, parent, friend, relative, self-care, and partner.
I find myself telling couples with some frequency that wanted time together won’t just happen on its own when you have a lot on your plate. Wishing for it isn’t enough – you need to be more intentional about making it happen by putting it near the top of your priority list and individually and together planning.
If you’re a bit wary about whether your ideas for meaningful, fun time together will be a hit with your partner then ask them about the kinds of activities indoors and outdoors they’d enjoy. You can each make a list, put the ideas in a jar, and pick from each other’s jars, taking turns. (My “Jar Exercise” I refer to in one of my free articles you can receive by signing up). Don’t allow quality time together to become a one-person job. It’s best to share the labor of connection. You’ll also get more “bang for your buck” by introducing novel places and activities. Neuroscience points out the benefit of novelty to the bonding experience between couples, so try to avoid doing the same old thing every time you’re together. Try to balance tried and true rituals you both enjoy with new experiences and places. You’ll be enriching your relationship in a major way. You’ll be avoiding the big pit of “busyness” and disconnection in your relationship, and you’ll feel better about being proactive about this issue.
I could never sit “Indian Style,” so when I spent two weeks in Girl Scout camp at age nine I felt like a total failure next to all the other little scouts sitting like perfect Yogis around the campfire, inhaling their gooey Smores. Imagine my later dismay whenever I attended a cozy, casual group event, or God forbid, a Yoga class and attempted to achieve a Namaste frame of mind in lotus position! So, sadly to say, my attempts at “regular” meditation haven’t been stellar with the posture all convoluted. I also sit in my work as a psychotherapist more than most elders do when they’re confined to wheelchairs, so more sitting as a form of meditative practice is generally out.
I relax and even meditate through movement, often focusing on my breath and gait during speed walks, no matter where I am. But the real deal happens when everything is quiet and shut down, my cat and husband are asleep, the horrible news is off, my laptop has been put to bed, the dishwasher is humming, and I’m in the zone making popsicles. I am the newest member of a bizarre club of mostly young Moms who need some peace and quiet, and find it late at night, concocting all sorts of decadent popsicles, then posting them on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. I call them the Midnight Madness Poppers, and I guess I’m one of them, invited, young and tired, Pinterest addicted – or not. I’ve decided that even though nobody has nominated me yet, that I have an even more exclusive membership in this club, because anyone can invent delicious pops loaded with gobs of sugar, but mine are healthy, untainted by that sweet poison.
I’ve also decided that most anyone can sit in perfect Lotus position, still and silent, noting their breath and invasive thoughts as a path to enlightenment. How many people can go into a total meditative trance at midnight whipping up things with names like “Banana Maple Coconut Rum Pecan” or “Russian Cappucino Walnut Kahlua Chip”? Huh?
Meet Barley (Lager) – our new “Grandson.” He may be the youngest member of our family, but we think he’s wiser than all the rest of us combined. He knows how to live and love and get his way when he wants to do his thing. You can’t walk with him ten feet in public without his universal fan club, (mostly older, very fancy, done up ladies), stopping, shrieking, cuddling him and kissing him on the mouth – even though he may have just eaten some fresh deer poop. Like most puppies, he loves everyone and everyone loves him. Of course, it helps that he’s soft and fuzzy, full of kisses and clumsy like a baby. But, he knows a few things about how to live with joy that the rest of us could learn from, probably saving us thousands in therapists fees like mine, and thousands of hours of searching through self help books. If we all just emulated the Barleys of the world we’d probably also spare ourselves loads of angst, and mountains of emptiness and stress.
So, here’s what Barley has already taught me about how to live happier:
- Be present in the moment, whatever that is
- Be curious – it’s an amazing, big world out there!
- Eat heartily when you’re hungry and nap when you’re tired
- Play a lot with gusto and abandon
- Be loyal, but also love the one you’re with – unless they’re mean
- Forgive and forget – today’s a new day
- Cuddle and kiss your family whenever you can, especially when you greet them
- Ask for what you want without shame
- Enjoy your own body – it’s full of wonderful parts!
- Give everyone the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’ll be a new friend!
- Back off when someone says “No” – and don’t bite!
- Be determined about getting your rewards
- Listen very carefully, trust your nose and tune in
- Be silly and unselfconscious – who gets hurt if you’re having fun?
(Feel free to add to this list in the name of helping all of us “grown ups” learn to live with more joy and exuberance). Right now, with Barley’s modeling, I need a nap…..
It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here because I’ve been practicing what I preach: giving myself a break. And, you know what? Nobody got killed! I took time to do some light gardening, some socializing with family and friends, some cooking and baking, some Spring organizing, some reading, and some mindless fun. It was totally delightful. For a few weeks no major trainings, no BlogTalk Radio shows, no bookkeeping, no internet work, no professional reading, no raking and mulching, and no blog writing. It was a daily practice of exorcizing my “shoulds,” and I would strongly recommend it to all of you as part of your mental health workout.
People today talk constantly about being too busy, but often don’t challenge the underlying assumptions and automatic or duty-driven behaviors which fuel the compulsive whirlwind of activity. Companies expect employees to be available without limitations, so it exacerbates the perception and experience of busyness as “loyal,” “responsible” and “valued.”
I would invite you however, to step off the emotional treadmill every so often to stop and smell the roses. Be silly, non-“productive,” self indulgent, time “wasting,” and in the moment. Relax, and see what happens…..
I’ve often teased my husband about how he goes into his “happy place” when he’s fishing, especially from his kayak. He slips into a total trance, paddling softly, examining the shallow water for fish and lures other people have left behind. I could be drowning in the next kayak, or there could be a nuclear holocaust and he’d be completely immersed in a Zen meditative state. (I think he’s in good company with half the planet in this way.)
Well, I’ve noticed something similar about myself and what I think may be true for millions of women: when I’m on a shopping mission searching for a specific item, I’m either in a store or online, totally immersed in the experience, focused and calm, in much the same way as when I play my guitar, maneuver my kayak, ski or garden. I used to think of the shopping as being too material, but I now realize that it’s a form of meditation – retail meditation! Whenever I’m in a store I observe something similar seeming to happen for mostly other women – they sail around with their carts, looking for this or that, with contented smiles on their faces, calm and centered, in what looks like a perfect state of “flow.” I don’t know if they’re on drugs or engaged in compulsive shopping, but they sure seem to be present in the moment!
So, if you engage in the same behavior, and you’re not overspending or avoiding some other responsibility, try not to let your inner critic define the experience as shallow. You may instead be honoring a biologically wired “gathering” instinct and doing a moving meditation. If it centers and calms you, it may be just what you need at that time!
PS. If you need more help with silencing your judgmental inner critic, feel free to call me for an appointment: 603-431-7131
I’m very excited to announce this upcoming BlogTalk Radio episode about Trauma Sensitive Yoga with Lisa Boldin, a graduate of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, and specialist practitioner in this unique form of Yoga.
In this episode we’ll discuss the unique advantages of Trauma Sensitive Yoga for anyone who is struggling with anxiety, emotional stress, or trauma related to experiences such as sexual assault, military combat, or domestic violence.
Call in toll-free at 877-497-9046 to share comments or ask questions about this Yoga. Or, listen live streaming (or later to the recording) at www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager where you will learn more about how and why this practice offers unique benefits for coping with PTSD. You won’t want to miss this show!
Here it is October 1st, the leaves are falling, the temperature has dropped radically, and most noticeably, it’s getting dark at about 5:30 PM. No doubt about it, the summer of 2014 has come and gone. Before we know it, we’ll be bundled up in winter coats, shoveling or snow-blowing our driveways, freezing our butts getting into frigid cars, sliding around on icy walkways, looking at a grey and white landscape and hiding out indoors. I love it!
When I admit that, everyone I know, (except for one sleepy client today), looks at me like I have two heads. They freely complain about all the above developments, expecting me to commiserate, and when instead I get all warm and fuzzy about the upcoming six-month winter, they probably begin to wonder if they’re sitting with a sane person. Some never come back for another session…
I’m convinced that I have the opposite of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) – the condition in which some people’s brain chemistry shifts into depressive mode around the lowered level and duration of light in the colder months. For me, I get happier as the skies get grayer and the weather gets murkier. I call it “sultry” weather – nice and cloudy and real chilly. It reminds me of happy adventures in Ireland and England. It may also be some nostalgic fragment of genetic memory from my slavic ancestry, harkening me back to the cold, dark weather in Russia and Poland where my grandparents grew up. Or, maybe I really am psychotic. But whatever the origin, I’ll share some reasons why you too might look forward to the six month “winter” we’re famous for here in Maine, instead of getting all bummed out about it:
- If it was warm and sunny all the time you’d lose the excitement about seasonal changes
- When it’s murky and cold out there’s no pressure to do fabulous things outdoors
- Grey, cold days give you space to be still and contemplative, less busy and frenetic
- There’s no need for air conditioners, fans, and other costly energy hogs
- You don’t have to tend to your garden or your lawn when there’s 2 feet of snow outside
- Without the chill of winter you’d never have an excuse to wear all those groovy boots
- Baths and hot tubs are much more delectable when you’re freezing your ass
- You have much more reason to tuck in with a good movie, book or instrument
- How would you ever experience the joy of skiing or snowshoeing without the snow?
- Without winter there would be no savoring of good soups, stews or comfort food
- There’s no earthly joy like climbing under a cozy down quilt when it’s frigid outside
- Monotone landscapes rest your eyes and brain from all those vibrant summer colors
- You pet your thankful dog, cat or hamster more when you’re hanging out indoors
- You have more time to read deep, thought-provoking blogs like this one
What more can I say?
So, if you have S.A.D. and are starting to get depressed facing the arctic blast, get one of those special lights to reset your brain chemistry, sit back and relax!
I am fondly referred to in my family as “Zippy” because I do everything really FAST. They call me the “Nazi Walker” because nobody can keep up with me. I’ve been known as the “speed gardener,” famous for a few inadvertant self stabs in the eye with thorns when rushing through hedge trimming. (See blogpost “Speed Gardening and the Revenge of the Sandcherry”). I talk fast, I eat fast, I write fast, I even do Yoga fast. I can’t help it – I’m from New York, and many people there are the same way. But today, Zippy went down, trying out a new pair of running shoes in the house at full speed going around corners.
You might ask: “Are you an idiot? What’s the rush?” But it’s the way I’m wired, and I figure I save loads of time zipping through laundry, dishes, bills, workouts, etc. I’m entering my “last chapter” of life, so there’s no time to waste – I have too much to do!
The side benefit of this injury today, (I probably fractured my ankle), was that I had to STOP everything, laze around, resting, icing, compressing and elevating my foot. No removing brush for my husband who would be chopping down mammoth trees, no uprooting unsightly bushes, killing Japanese beetles, cooking for the next few days, folding laundry, buying another router from Best Buy, running in my new sneakers, nada. Just vegging out, nursing my injury and spending nine hours (!) online setting up my new Amazon Store. So you, lucky reader, now have the benefit of lazy shopping for good reads from your couch on my Amazon Store page! If you’re in too much of a rush to look for it on this site, go to: http://wp.me/P1ayQF-Vc (I’ve been wanting to set it up for months, but I’m usually zipping around doing everything else). Sometimes sitting still has it’s benefits…..
I think that procrastination and lack of action get a raw deal in our culture. In Latin countries they extol the virtue of “Mañana,” the concept of getting to things tomorrow, another day. They seem to live in a more relaxed way, not as stressed with the immediacy of the “to-do” list as we are in the U.S. So, I’ve developed a handy mechanism borrowed from that mindset, to solve some problems in a more carefree way. Here are some examples:
- Going through the mail: Instead of sorting through all the obvious junk mail to see where you’ll get a great deal, just ignore it for a few weeks. You’ll then notice that all the coupons for $1. lattes, $15. oil changes and $1. burgers have expired! Dump it all and problem solved!
- Responding to emails: Instead of scrupulously answering the hundreds or thousands of inbox communications, do nothing with the ones that aren’t from loved ones or creditors. You’ll be amazed at how the rest of the pile just seems to fade in importance and relevance. Again, most of the “deals” which seemed so compelling a few weeks ago, will likely have expired, and somehow you’ll go on living.
- The TV remote, your answering machine, your fax and your printer going haywire: I’ve found that if I ignore the malfunctions for a few weeks, it not only forces me to engage less with my devices, but it also gives them time to fix themselves, which they usually do!
- Folding the laundry: Instead of stressing about the enormous pile of towels, sheets and underwear in the clean basket, simply pull out what you need each day. Before you know it, the basket will be empty and nobody (unless Martha Stewart is visiting), will know or care that you’ve done nothing in the folding department. If they do care, maybe you should re-think that relationship…
- Cleaning the garage: Instead of making weekly dates with yourself to thin out all the junk you’ve collected, do nothing and let it accumulate until there’s a hurricane or snowstorm predicted. Then you’ll be amazed to see how quickly and efficiently you clear out the debris in time to save your car from total destruction.
So, I say “Don’t worry, be happy! Do nothing, and sometimes you’ll accomplish a lot!”
PS. If this attitude creates a lot of guilt for you, or you suffer from perfectionism or compulsivity, feel free to contact me for some in-person or remote sessions. Call my office at 603-431-7131 for an appointment.