Anxious in America

 

Hopefully, the pandemic is receding and so, too, is the spike in national (and global) anxiety it provoked. I suspect, though, that some form of anxiety will stay with us, albeit in a more chronic rather than acute form. It may be the price of admission for the opportunity called modern life.

Who knows what will trigger the next round of personal or societal anxiety.

Why wait for the next disaster when we can improve our anxiety-regulation skills today?

We can learn to manage our anxiety before the next time it sends us into reactiveness, brain fog, or pseudo-comforting addictive behaviors. 

Got anxiety?

If you’re living in the United States, chances are good that you do.

Higher-income countries, in general, have more anxiety than lower-income countries. And anxiety in this country was rising before the pandemic arrived.

Clinically diagnosed anxiety, though, is just the tip of the iceberg. Stats on those cases don’t catch the anxiety many of us experience when we think “What-will-happen-this-fall?” “Do I have to socialize?” or “No-not-another-shooter.”

We live in a world where anxiety is catching. It’s at least as contagious as Covid. And as far as I know, there’s no vaccine.

“You’re anxious”

My interest in the subject is not academic.

A doctor, a few years back, told me that I had anxiety. Apparently, she thought normal, aging mortals weren’t supposed to rise five times a night to pee (verdict still out on that…).

  • My first reaction was: “Nah, not me.”
  • My second reaction was: “How can anyone not be anxious given what’s going on in this country?”
  • My third was, “I think this conversation is making me more anxious.”

My doc was probably right. While I don’t have clinical anxiety, While I don’t have clinical anxiety, her diagnosis propelled me to investigate how I might keep my garden-grade variety in check.

First steps

That’s why I wanted to read Judson Brewer’s new book, Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind. Brewer, a physician, has faced his own anxiety while treating that of many others. In this scientific, yet personal, work, he shows us how our desire to avoid anxious feelings can bloom into bad habits if not larger addictions.

Anxiety makes addicts of us all

The word addiction often brings to mind big ones such as alcohol, gambling, eating, or drugs.

Yet addiction regularly shows up in smaller ways, in the small, self-defeating cycles we create when we’re triggered by worry.

Brewer writes, “Hate to tell you this but you’re addicted to something.”

He maps the cycle of addiction. We are triggered by a worry; we act in response; we reap a response that often makes us more worried. Spin and repeat.

For example:

  • Trigger: We’re worried about taxes we haven’t done
  • Behavior: We put off doing them.
  • Result/reward: We end up worrying about them more. (Repeat cycle.)

Or,

  • Trigger: We worry about a difficult conversation we need to have.
  • Behavior: We reach out for our favorite comfort, such as ice cream, extreme bungee jumping, Netflix, Facebook, etc., instead of having the conversation.
  • Result/reward: Our “solution” makes us feel worse and we still haven’t talked. (Repeat cycle.)

Advertisers know how to exploit our anxiety-induced addictions.

Animal trainers use intermittent positive reinforcement as a powerful way to train dogs.  After Rover understands the game he is supposed to play, the trainer stops rewarding him all the time but makes sure Rover gets treats often enough to keep wanting to play.

Social media is treating us like dogs. 

The savants behind social media algorithms use intermittent reinforcement. They give us an occasional biscuit in the form of interesting news bites, a greeting from a friend, or a “like.” Thus reinforced, we’re willing to tolerate their torrent of ads and keep returning to their site.

I turn to Facebook to relax. I receive a biscuit of connection. But in the end, I don’t relax. Generally, I fall into a stupor and then wonder where I’ve been.

When it comes to food, manufacturers have our number. They engineer the foods we turn to for relief, filling our “comfort foods” with the addiction-forming trio of sugar, fat, and salt. We reach for a little comfort and end up hooked.

As the Frito Lays potato chip ads used to brag: “Bet you can’t eat just one.”

When we finally finish our bag of chips, we still have our anxiety, (maybe even more) but now we feel yucky, guilty, and definitely heavier.

Many of our go-to’s to relieve anxiety don’t work. Neither do some common “solutions.”

Bound to fail “solutions”

Brewer lists three approaches to unwinding anxiety that don’t work.

  • Willpower. Even if we’re good at powering ourselves into new behavior, we’re likely to lose resolve when we’re stressed. And failing to meet our resolve becomes another reason to beat ourselves up (i.e. more anxiety).
  • Substitutions. Reaching for a carrot might be better than a potato chip. But only after we recognize the nature of our habit loop.
  • Priming the environment. Taking out all the bad foods from our cupboards will decrease temptation. Until we learn we can order home delivery.

What works

The big winner, in his book, is mindfulness, nonjudgmental attention focused on the present moment. Usually, mindfulness involves calm, centered breathing and detached observation.

Brewer suggests three levels of intervention:

  • Map our habits and cycles. Notice what triggers us and how we respond. Observe non-judgmentally without trying to change.
  • Pay attention to the real results we experience: the thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations generated by that bag of chips, along with the consequences.
  • Substitute a BBO, a Bigger, Better Offer that allows us to break the cycle and reward ourselves with something that is good for us. Like a walk, or maybe that carrot.

The key is to allow ourselves to become curious, thriving on investigation rather than judgment and blame. 

Picking BBOs

I’ve shared some of my strategies for calming my nervous system before–here are some favorites:

  • Give my head a vibrational flush through humming, chanting, or sounding.
  • Paint or draw as long as it’s just for fun.
  • Invite two dogs to lie on top of me. Truthfully, they don’t need to be invited. They take savasana, the yogic rest pose, as their call-to-action. Once down on their level, I will be covered with licks as well as 110 pounds of flesh and fur.

What’s on your list?

Resilience in the time ahead

I hope that post-pandemic our collective level of anxiety will decrease.

Maybe we’ll find relief in a newly vaccinated world. But let’s not wait for the next spike in anxiety to find out.

Maybe a little worry can motivate us. (And for some of us, anxiety is chronic, anyway.)

But in the end, running on anxiety doesn’t help us change the world.

Brewer offers us an approach to try.

When we can manage anxiety mindfully, it won’t get to manage us.

 

Are you feeling exhausted?

A second pandemic is sweeping the nation. I don’t know how contagious it is, but I know it’s spreading.

Exhaustion.

You recognize the symptoms. The big sigh after you hear that the pandemic may be going on for more months. Random thoughts like: “I’m tired,” or “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” or “Enough is enough.”

Too many things stuck on the to-do list. (I use the excuse “Covid-brain.”) The world feeling gloomy on a beautiful blue-sky day. Zero desire to diet or get in shape despite the arrival of five new Covid pounds.

Mostly, you’re just tired.

(For a blessing, skip to the end.)

The end of the stay-cation

For some, the pandemic has had tragic consequences. For others, the start of the pandemic felt like a stay-cation, an opportunity to pull back from the world, spend more time at home, and take a break, at least initially.

So if we have been resting more, why are we exhausted? (I say we. I mean I. But it might be you, too.)

If you had to take care of children at home, work 8 hours a day over Zoom, navigate life for your elderly parent or sick relative, or had Covid, I don’t even have to ask you why you are exhausted.

What about the rest of us? We need a new word (help me, please!) to  describe the following:

“Inexplicable bouts of extreme exhaustion, not attributable to any particular thing but influenced by many forces including the state of the world.”

Diagnosing Covid-19 related exhaustion

The first thing in recovery is to acknowledge that what you feel is real, even if you don’t think you have sufficient reason to be exhausted.

Me, I’m having trouble sorting out my personal fatigue from world weariness. The state of the planet presses on me like a low cloud cover on a day when the barometric pressure has dropped. Heavy.

Here is a questionnaire to help you diagnose the source of your fatigue.

Do you think the source of your fatigue is related to:
(Check all the apply)

  1. Health challenges, including lack of sleep. (By the way, sleep is mandatory.)
  2. Questionable nutrition (e.g., not enough kale or not enough milkshakes, depending on your preferences.)
  3. The expectation that the pandemic was supposed to be done by now.
  4. The rage at seeing big gatherings with unmasked people congregating.
  5. The state of the environment, politics or Black Lives Matter, knowing that nothing is likely to be resolved by September.
  6. Empathy. Someone close to you is suffering and/or you’re feeling sad for those you don’t know, who are suffering.
  7. Caregiving. You’re tired from taking care of someone you love. Or, someone you love is feeling tired, which makes you tired.
  8. You miss doing something you loved. (Seeing your grandbaby. That leisurely indoor cup of coffee. Face-to-face yoga classes.)
  9. A conspiracy. You’ve learned that Dr. Fauci is responsible for inventing the virus and spreading it around the globe.

If you checked any of the answers, except 9, I empathize. If you checked 9, go rest immediately. Take a pill if needed.

Please place any rumors about Dr. Fauci in a tightly lidded (garbage) can along with ideas like:

  • The liberals are behind this.
  • Masks make you sick.
  • The Chinese started this to do us in.
  • The Visigoths are about to stage a comeback.

How tempting it is to want to blame someone. It can relieve some pressure while leading to bigger problems (like wasting money on a wall to keep out Visigoths).

Of course, there’s always the hoped-for magic pill, which is why I continue buying supplements.

Unfortunately, what we’re being asked to do is a lot harder: ENDURE. No magic bullet. No quick fix. Damn!

What to do

In the face of it all, what we can do is to sleep, eat, exercise–all that good stuff.

In addition, prepare a list of what renews you. If you wait till you’re feeling exhausted it might be too late. At those moments, I forget that I love to take walks at dusk, sing to the horses, laugh at cat videos, and watch sunflowers grow. Lying on the couch is all that occurs to me, although that’s not necessarily a bad option.

Then, at the top of your list, in BOLD letters, write SELF COMPASSION. We did not ask for this. It’s going on “too long.” The consequences are still unknown and they don’t look good. Bravo to you for facing all this and still finding a way to laugh. Or drink a root beer float.

Last weekend my husband and I signed up for the Disney Channel so that we could watch the film version of Hamilton. After that, we tried The Sound of Music. I highly recommend it. Beautiful sites. Images of Salzburg. Music you can sing along with. And a happy ending. Maybe I’ll do Bambi next.

An Irish Blessing

Whatever’s in your survival kit, I offer you this by John O’Donohue, the great Irish giver of blessings:

For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.

Here’s to finding joy in your senses, the silence, or a bit of slow time.

Honor Earth Day with delight for the small

 

 

 

I woke up early on Earth Day to the song of a white crown sparrow. It seemed fitting that to honor something as big as Earth Day, I needed to start small.

Listening to birdsong is like stepping into a land of wonder, a foreign world that I never really heard before because I never really listened. That, or the fact that the regular noise of airplanes flying overhead obscured more tender songs. (Fewer flights and less noise being one of the benefits of the pandemic.)

How generous nature is to provides such treats. Birds are almost everywhere and it takes only our attention to enjoy their trills, tweets, chirps, and chatter.

I’ve never been a birder nor could understand why anyone would wake up pre-dawn on a cold Northwest morning to stand, shiver, and watch birds. I prefer hot tea, morning meditation, and comfort. Then again, the world is changing and I am, too.

In these days of a BIG pandemic,  I need the solace of the small. One bird, at one moment, became soul-food for me.

A new relationship

When I first learned history, many moons ago, I read stories of men (sic) as master-commanders, who built kingdoms and made “progress” by dominating nature.

I’m still occasionally tempted to believe that I’m the center of my own universe–or at least, with my husband, the center of our property.

This morning’s sparrow, however, didn’t get the message. He lives in his universe of song, hopping along the ground looking for seeds, insects, and spiders.

Birds are not deferent to our starring roles as masters. I doubt they spend much of their time talking about us.

That holds true for other inhabitants of our property, including the squirrels, worms, voles, chipmunks, tree frogs, and occasional raccoons, each holding private exchanges that don’t have anything to do with us humanoids.

It feels humbling and important to know how much of nature goes on without us, hurt by our actions, but never deferent.

Covid-19 is proving that.

Game shifter

During these stay-at-home days, I have no need to travel. I can sit and discover a world in a bird’s song. Even a little snail in a terrarium can open our hearts to nature. (Read Tova Bailey’s exquisite The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.) 

Hearing the sparrow reminds me of when, at 17, I left the United States for the first time. Spending the summer in Brussels, my lens on life shattered when I looked back at my country and saw that it was part of the world, not the center of the world.

Will Covid-19 shake us so badly that we’ll look at our relationship to the world around us in new ways? Partnerships would be a good a place to start, between countries, among peoples, and between humans and the many aspects of nature.

When we let go of master-commander or center-of-the-universe roles, we observe our interconnected places within a larger system.

We’re in it together,” is today’s strong and uplifting mantra. That phrase really should include birds, tree frogs, viruses, government leaders, and ground beetles.

Still at the center

Eco-system thinking aside, I cling to the hope that there’s one place, with my husband, where I could be at the center of someone’s universe. When I look at our joy-boys, Winston and Royce with their ever-wagging tails, I think there’s still a chance.

But when they look at us, it’s likely, from their perspective, that THEY are at the center of the universe, and we’re just a little, you know, slow to learn.

Here’s to partnership…with a little birdsong for theme music.

Finding more of enough

How do we know when we have found “enough?”

That question propelled me to read prize-winning author Shauna Ahern’s just-published memoir: Enough: Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It.

While Shauna is best known as “The Gluten-Free Girl,” this book is a departure from her work as a blogger and cookbook maven. She opens up her heart and her life, as she shares what it took to survive her childhood and rebuild life as an adult. Her story of enough is uniquely her own; but the quest to find what is enough can apply to us all.

She happens to live on my island, so I was able to interview, for my podcast, a “best-selling author” who lived just a few miles down the road. Like me, she rides the bus, shops at our great local thrift store, and loves this community.

Shauna found enough not through fame as a writer, but through living her values, and staying connected to her family, her community, and herself.

One of the things I love about the book is how she takes us behind the scenes of her life as the Gluten-Free Girl. Viewed from the outside, she was the picture of social media success with thousands of followers and several highly acclaimed, prize-winning cookbooks. Behind the scenes, she was increasingly miserable with a business that neither paid the rent nor filled her soul. Courageously, she walked away and worked for a while at the local supermarket to pay the bills. We have the kind of supermarket where having a prize-winning author stocking shelves isn’t THAT unusual.

She created the space to live life according to what was most important to her.

(Listen to the podcast, she’s inspiring.)

The challenge to find enough

Determining enough isn’t easy. I have lived for years with a chronic, low-grade case of not-enoughness.

For example:

Do I get enough sleep? (I can always use more.)
Do I eat enough vegetables?
Do I do enough to help the environment?
Do I give enough to causes?
Do I spend enough time with friends?
Do I spend enough time training the dogs?
Do I write enough?
Do I have enough money set aside to see me through a crazy economy and possible health challenges in the future?

The list could go on. We’re bombarded daily with ads and messages telling us we aren’t enough and haven’t done enough.

We’re told we can fill the hole in our hearts by buying more stuff.

We don’t know how to have what we have.

Years ago, in The Soul of Money, Lynn Twist wrote about how important it is to have what we have, with appreciation and gratitude. It’s not the amount of money we have, but our relationship to it that determines whether we feel abundance. While raising money for causes, Lynn discovered that some very wealthy people found little joy in their wealth or their giving. They never felt like they had enough.

A weight-y (ha) story

Years ago, while shuttling between New York City and sub-Saharan Africa for work, I lost a lot of weight. For the first time in my life, I was really thin, thus achieving the dream of many a young woman. I looked great in pants. I went down from a women’s size ten to a four. (I’m an eight now.) I wasn’t anorexic (well, maybe I was borderline), but I weighed myself obsessively every day.

I delighted in having lost weight, but was it enough? As the bones in my arms started to poke out, I heard a devilish voice saying, “What if you start to gain it back? Maybe you should lose a few more pounds to be safe.” I had achieved the prize of thinness, but it wasn’t enough. I could always be thinner.

It was not the happiest period of my life.

A few years later, after moving to Seattle, I gained weight and gave away my NYC clothes. I stopped watching the scale. (Haven’t looked at one for forty years.)

I weighed more, and I had more friends, a guy I liked, and a life I enjoyed. Like Shauna, in living a relatively simple life, I found enough.

I joked with Shauna about the tagline for her book: From a woman who has finally found it. That line made it sound like enough was an exalted state to reach, instead of something we might dip into and out of.

The publisher had chosen the tagline. (They have rights, of course.) Shauna, in turn, titled the last section of her book “Mostly enough.”

The dance between appreciating what we have and wanting more is baked into contemporary life.

Sometimes a sense of lack can lead to great achievements. But for many of us, the scales are heavily weighted away from relaxing, appreciating, and celebrating what we do have.

There may always be areas in which we wonder about enoughness or feel that there’s more that we want. We reach retirement, did we achieve enough? We start painting, are we good enough? We have friends, but do we have enough?

The question, ultimately, is whether we believe we ARE enough.

Some days we may be sure that we are; some days, we may forget.

In my case, I know what I want my answer to be.

With care,

 

Where in the cycle are you?

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

            Pete Seeger (and Ecclesiastes)

When I first arrived at our island home almost fourteen years ago, I started to garden like a madwoman. This was particularly significant because I had never gardened before. For a few years, the garden was the focal point of my life.

Then, after a momentous year of preparing for an island Garden Tour, I more or less stopped. Moved on to other things (writing). Did a little work in the garden, while dreading the onslaught of weeds. Felt the obligation. Lost the love.

Then this year – almost nine years later, I found myself in love with the garden again. I’m not gardening as before, but am looking forward to time outside without feeling enslaved.

Another possibility of a hidden cycle is my dogs. I lost my beloved Springer Spaniel eighteen years ago. Two cycles of nine later–last year–we began fostering Springers. And if you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that we just adopted our two young bro-boys last week.

Is a new cycle of my life about to start? 

Cycles of life

The idea of a cycle is natural. Our lives follow the rhythms of the seasons, day and night, life into death. Watching the brilliant leaves of fall begin to fall (our maples are glorious), I am comforted to know new growth will start again after the winter.

Yet, part of me clings to the idea of free will.

Why should my life and projects be dictated by a cyclic rhythm? What about the great American idea that we make our destiny, build whenever we want, and continually live on the edge of creating some great thing?

It’s humbling to accept that life is not totally dependent on my initiatives. Following the natural rhythm of a time to plant and a time to sow suggests that there may be an organic time to start a project and a time to cease.

This week, I decided not to attend a workshop I might have loved at another point in my life. But not this year. I’m coming to the end of a period in which I have preferred to be more inward and reflective. Go slower. Take more care and do a little less.

Although numerological cycles are intriguing, I don’t believe in following a strict formula, because there are almost always exceptions to any rule. But I do appreciate learning to listen to the cycles within.

Knowing that every cycle has a beginning, middle, and end, keeps me from pushing too hard to start a project (a favorite sport!) when the timing isn’t quite right.

Here’s my take on a nine-phase cycle:

(For a slightly different and more precise take, check out Jean Haner’s book Your Hidden Symmetry: How Your Birth Date Reveals the Plan for Your Life. )

  1. Beginnings. Allowing yourself to dream.
  2. Moving out in the world. Choosing a dream or project and beginning to develop it.
  3. Creating. Beginning the work.
  4. Continuing to build.
  5. Allowing change. Learning from experience.
  6. Nurturing and harvesting.
  7. Reevaluating and continuing to harvest.
  8. Beginning to draw in; becoming more reflective.
  9. Allowing the cycle to complete. Spending time nurturing one’s self in the cocoon before re-emerging. Going fallow.

You don’t have to buy into the cycle of nine to feel how cycles might be operating in your life.

When a project feels sticky getting off the ground, or a move or relationship doesn’t seem to be following your preferred timing, you can ask, “Where am I in the cycle, and what might be being asked of me now?”

To help, here are some sample questions to see where you might be in a cycle:

  • Do I feel the energy, green and fresh, of new beginnings, dreams, and yet unformed projects?
  • Is it time to get going and build something (a project, a business, a relationship)?
  • Is it time to hang in there with what I’m building, and persevere despite challenges I may be facing?
  • Do I need to learn from experience and adapt my plans?
  • It is time to celebrate the harvest and gather the fruits of what I’ve created?
  • Is it time to begin to give away and share lessons with others?
  • Am I hearing the rumbles that change is coming?
  • Am I sensing that it’s time to complete and let go? Do I feel like pulling in a little?
  • Is it time to go fallow, and reflect before life pulls me out again?

If I had my preference, I’d usually opt for the beginning of a cycle. Vision, dreams, possibilities are my native turf.

In the last few years, however, I’ve been living through the end years of a nine-year cycle. I’ve learned about the deepening that comes from spending time in a fertile, fallow period.

I’ve been writing, yes, but not engaging as much outside of my habitat. Doing the inner-tending felt right, knowing that this stage wouldn’t continue forever.

Now, as I move back into the garden, I wonder if things are about to change…

 

Finding your true “yes” and your true “no”

One thing I have noticed in recent years is that my “no’s” and my “yes’s” have gotten stronger and clearer. Being able to listen to one’s self and sense (and offer) a true “yes” and a true “no” may be one of the superpowers we can claim with age, even if gracefully conveying an honest “no” takes a lot of tact.

Clear yes/Clear no

A few years ago, as I was traveling the on-ramp to 60, a very generous friend of mine offered me his ticket to a national conference that was taking place in Seattle. Tickets were pricey, and his was a very kind offer. It made good sense for me to attend since the conference was related to my field. But when I considered going, I heard a voice inside of me saying, “No.”

Sense or no sense, I didn’t go.

Instead, I stayed home to work in my garden. My garden had become my teacher and my creative calling; I needed those days to dig.

Later that year, a friend suggested that I take a clowning class. Even though I had never clowned (and it turned out to be bloody hard), I heard, “Yes.”

That decision also didn’t make sense.

With hindsight, both my “No” and my “Yes”  did make sense. A new impulse was calling me forward. My love of gardening would lead me to start writing; my forays into clowning and improv would open up a deeper understanding of storytelling.

Alas, not all of my “yes’s” and “no’s” are that clear. Some decisions still take years for me to muddle through. Other times I delay saying, “No,” for fear of hurting someone’s feelings–not the best excuse.

The art of an honest “No”

There’s nothing easy about saying “No,” especially to a friend. Ironically, though, “no’s” are often key to real friendship.

A friend hit it on the head when she said, “I want my friends to be able to say “No” to me, so I can believe them when they say, “Yes.”

We can tell when someone is saying “yes” out of obligation or not wanting to offend. A “yes” with a ‘no” disguised within it has a yucky feeling, a half-heartedness. On some level, we know what we are hearing doesn’t jibe with what we are sensing. It’s disturbing.

We need to be able to say “No,” blessing the friendship while declining an opportunity.

Saying “No” to support your creative time

In general, I prefer to be around people who live life with a spirit of “YES!” instead of a stream of “no’s.”

That said, many writers and creatives describe how important it is to prioritize their creative work, and to say “No” to invitations that might pull them away from it. I would love to have more coffees with friends, go on outings, or host a dinner party reciprocating some of the hospitality my husband and I have received.

But I can’t. Not just now. My work is tender, and I have to stay focused.

But how to be honest?

If I were to be totally honest (not there yet), what I might say to a friend who hosted us for dinner is, “Thank you so much for dinner–I really enjoy being with you and appreciated your lovely meal. I want to reciprocate but here’s the truth: cooking is not where I want to spend my time right now, and writing is. If I don’t keep going, my progress will dissipate. In another world, perhaps that of The Crown, the Netflix series I am binge-watching in my downtime, I’d have my housekeeper prepare the house, my royal staff would cater dinner, and my personal assistant would handle all the accompanying details. (I’m anticipating this after I’m anointed!) But even though I’m not entertaining these days, I care about you and enjoy being together.”

I’m afraid that’s too many words. I’ll probably just stick with the first sentence.

Open space in a calendar is not blank space

Growing up, I lived for weekends and wanted entertainment. Now, when I reach the weekend, I’m happy if there’s nothing on my calendar. These days, life comes in front and center pretty hard, and I need more and more recovery time. Even though open spaces in my schedule mean I could do something, I know in my heart that I need that time to do–nothing.

When you’re on a creative roll, allowing open space in a calendar is often more potent than filling all of your time slots in.

The nuanced “No”

Repeatedly saying, “No” to pursue your creative work can seem selfish. You can mitigate that risk by asking, “What am I being called to do now?”

You may have to bend your schedule and change your plans. A friend receives a call that her ninety-year-old mother has fallen; my friend’s painting project is put on hold. When my mother was in her last years, I flexed my schedule to say, “Yes,” whenever I could. Some sacrifices are worth making, not out of obligation but out of an inner knowing.

I worry that putting a shield around my schedule may discourage friends from remembering that I’ll be there for them if they need to go to the hospital, work through an urgent problem, or have a heart-to-heart conversation.

If you’re reading this, remember this offer to you!

Where it all starts

Etiquette aside, hearing (and speaking) a true “yes” and true “no” begins with listening to your heart. In today’s chatter of overfilled schedules and continual opportunities to do more than any mortal possibly could, hearing the subtle soundings of the soul takes particular attention.

A true “yes” and a true “no” have a ring. When a friend who has thoughtfully considered what she’s being called to do declines my invitation, I might be disappointed. I can also be inspired.

By listening with the heart and speaking from her inner knowing, my friend offers me permission to listen more deeply to what is calling me.

And I say “Yes” to that.

 

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