Feeling overwhelmed? Something’s gotta give!

Continuing our look at the Paramita of Resolve, I notice my resolve gets undermined when I get overwhelmed by too many commitments. I get exhausted, upset with myself, upset with others, and irritated when things don’t go smoothly. In that state, it’s not easy to ask really useful questions. Instead, I’m more likely to ask ‘Who’s to blame here?’ Which of course only stirs up more trouble!

A much more skillful question is: ‘How am I in relationship to my current experience?’ That question is so helpful. It helps me become present and be compassionate with myself and others. Being present and compassionate are my two intentions in life, so I feel a deepening of my resolve.

In that moment, that’s enough. But later, when I have time to reflect on how I set myself up for a situation. I can ask:

  • Am I juggling too many things?
    • Sometimes I just take on too much and need to either pace myself, get help or let one or more of those things go, at least for awhile.
  • What could I let go of without the world ending?
  • Are some of those things not even my responsibility?
  • Am I being a perfectionist, not seeing the bigger picture or purpose?

So many students over the years have shared their exasperation with family members who don’t appreciate all the work they put into creating an event, like a holiday meal. They sit around watching football and say ‘Ma, relax, would you?’  Really? Do they think the gravy stirs itself?

We want some appreciation for all we do and some gratitude. But we also need to look at our own attitude. What is our goal here? To have a warm fun family (or friends) gathering? Or to prove we are great cooks, mothers, aunts, hostesses; as good as (or better than) our mother, mother-in-law, or some other woman who seems so exemplary and does everything faultlessly with apparent ease. Do we think our family and friends could only love and value us if we are superwomen? Au contraire! Think of the people you love and value. Is it for their superior talents? Probably not. In fact superwomen tend to be difficult, distracted and much less fun than someone who knows how to relax and enjoy her friends and family.

So a question that might expose some surprising truths is:

  • What am I trying to prove here?

We can ask these questions without judging ourselves harshly or feeling like failures. This is a compassionate exploration that helps us to bring some joy into our lives, not a witch trial!

One student experimented with letting go of some of the things on her annual holiday to do list, and discovered that if a tradition was valued there was always someone willing to step in and make it happen. I remember when I was a teenager and my mother decided not to bother getting a Christmas tree that year. My brothers were gone, Dad was bah humbug, and she was working full time. I was so involved with my friends, I hardly noticed. But then it was Christmas Eve day. And suddenly I did care, but I accepted that the little Mexican tin Christmas tree stand would be our only decoration that year. 74b945961621129527533854016eb072Then my brother surprised us by arriving home from New York. He was shocked, shocked, I tell you, that there was no tree. He put down his duffle bag and said, ‘Stephanie, get in the car.’ And off we went down to buy the last straggly fir at the Christmas tree lot at Tam Junction for one dollar. (I’m not so old that trees cost a dollar, but it was the last one and the man was ready to close and probably felt sorry for us.)

Why do I tell that story? To show that it wasn’t the end of the world that my mother chose not to go all out for Christmas as she had in all the previous years. She was tired! And my brother stepped in to fill the void about a tradition he felt important to uphold. It wasn’t a failure for my mother but an opportunity for my brother to shine in his little sister’s eyes!

If no one steps in to uphold a tradition, perhaps its time has passed. For now. And no doubt new fun traditions will be created, ones with more ease, collaboration and congenial celebration. Can we be open to the possibility that we are not the only weavers at the loom of this life?

Of course, this is not just a holiday challenge. We can easily get overwhelmed by our daily lives. The to do list may seem endless. Recently we looked at Letting Go, and focused mainly on possessions, with the aid of Marie Kondo and her best selling book. But we can look at our involvements in the same way we do our possessions. We can think about each activity and whether it nourishes us or is just something we do to fill time, or is an obligation we have taken on but the heart is not in it.

As women, especially wives and mothers, when we evaluate our activities, we are more likely to toss out the one that is ‘just for me’, seeing it as selfish. We tend to put our needs at the very bottom of every to do list, and then never get that far. This is convoluted thinking. The activity that is central and nourishing, like meditation or yoga or walks in nature or time alone with a journal or a bubble bath or time at the easel or dancing, makes all else possible. Giving up on that nourishment leaves us unable to handle the rest with any sense of joy and generosity.

This happened to me in my early forties when I was just ‘too busy’ with work and trying to be an ideal mom, wife and daughter to find time to meditate. But without it, I got very ill and things (my body, my career) fell apart. I have never gone without meditating since. And everyone around me, from my husband and children to the checker at the grocery store, is better off for my resolution to practice every morning, whether they know it or not.

This is a worthy exploration. We may need to relinquish the idea that we can do it all, and ask for help. We may need to relinquish the need to be seen in a certain way, and accept this human experience as it is. We may need to relinquish the whip we have been beating ourselves with. But we need to be sure we don’t relinquish the very thing that keeps us present and compassionate.

By relinquishing what keeps us from our resolve, we make it possible to sustain that deepest intention.

Are you juggling too much? Please share your thoughts here.

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