With the holiday season descending, it's easy to start feeling overwhelmed by everything going on. With the sparse daylight at this time of year, it often seems like my days are compressing and I feel tight and rigid rather than open and free. I start to feel ruled by the calendar, thinking constantly about what needs to be done and what event is coming up, rather than appreciating the moments as they come and go. It's not just at this time of year either. I generally tend towards feeling constricted - by time, by anxiety and fear, by my abilities, by my beliefs, by what's in my bank account. I used to think that I could avoid this feeling by doing less - by clearing my calendar and hoarding my money and time. But that just left me feeling empty and sad.
I've since realized that space is a mindset, and a choice. All the pressure, heaviness and constriction is in my head. I get to decide how I feel and I've decided I want to live a life that's full to bursting, while still staying open and finding ways to expand.
If you're feeling constrained and need some space in your life, here are some things that tend to help me open up:
When I get really busy, I often catch myself feeling greedy with my time and resentful of anyone who tries to gobble up some of my precious moments. How crazy is that! Instead, I focus on being thankful that someone wants to spend their valuable time with me (because chances are they're just as busy as I am!), and I remind myself of how much I get out of an hour of meaningful conversation. This helps me soften and look forward to time spent with people, rather than avoiding it.
Meditation teaches me to observe my thoughts and feelings and let them go, rather than being controlled by them. This means that I can feel the sense of constricting and pulling in and recognize it as a sensation in my body and a set of beliefs, rather than objective reality. The reality is that in every moment there is always enough time and space. Meditation gives me the opportunity to step back and breathe.
Time moves more slowly in the woods - there's something about the extended timeline of nature that helps remind me that everything is as it should be. Even just escaping the restrictive walls of my office or studio helps me to see and think bigger.
There's nothing like getting lost in a project to help me let go of constraints. When I'm really enjoying what I'm working on I lose track of everything else. The best is when I don't feel like I have time or energy to make something but do it anyway. The time comes and the energy comes and I feel like I've pulled it out of thin air.
Get up high
It sounds a little silly but it really works! When travelling, I have often sought out high places to sit and contemplate. In a small town in Argentina I climbed a large hill almost every day for exercise but also to free myself from narrow thinking. It often seems like the more I can physically see, the more I can accept emotionally.
Focus on one thing
Instead of trying to deal with my entire to do list all at once, I'm practicing focusing on one thing at a time. When I block out distractions and give myself permission to sink into a task, time seems to slow down and I have more resources to draw on.
Look at the sky
This is the same as getting up high. The sky seems limitless, and it reminds me that I am capable of so much more than I think.
Think about others
One day as I was stuck in traffic, feeling frustrated about the time that I was wasting, I happened to look up and see cars off in the distance, across the river, that also weren't moving. Suddenly I realized that all these hundreds of people were in the same situation as me, tired and trying to get home, and a strong feeling of connection washed away the frustration. This is something I try to practice intentionally: thinking about other people who are experiencing the same thing that I am. When I feel like I'm part of something, my awareness expands and I feel less like I'm caught in traffic, and more like I'm part of humanity.
This is a great exercise from The Way of the Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover - When you breathe in, picture the air going into a limitless heart that is strong enough and big enough to hold any emotion. When you breathe out, picture the air being released into a wide open sky.
Think about everything you do have
When I feel frustrated because I don't have the money to get something I want, it helps to think about the things that I do have that I love. I take a moment to appreciate my full fridge after I buy groceries, and give thanks for the nutrition that will come from the food. I admire my favourite notebook, or enjoy a delicious tea or square of chocolate. I just went through Marie Kondo's decluttering technique for my clothes and though I have fewer items, every item has been chosen because it sparks joy. So now when I get dressed, I appreciate the beauty of each piece and give thanks that I found it and that it can add beauty to my day.
Remember that you made the choice
Whenever I start feeling enslaved by my calendar, I stop and remind myself that I chose everything in it. From the day job, to the friend's birthday, or the dentist or massage appointments, everything was put there by me. Remembering why I chose that event and focusing on the potential goodness that it contains helps me feel more in control and more excited than stressed.
This ubiquitous advice can be feel annoyingly trite. Be present, live in the moment. Blah blah. But my goodness is it ever true. I believe in the present moment because when it comes down to it, that's all we ever have. Give it your full attention. It's really hard and I think it will take a lifetime of practice. But it's so worth it.
When it feels like your world is getting smaller and smaller, remember this:
- Time is not limited resource - it can expand or contract depending on the attention we give it.
- Money is not a limited resource - it's an exchange of energy and there's always more to be found.
- Love is not a limited resource - it grows the more we invest in it.
- Creativity is not a limited resource - as Maya Angelou says, the more you use it up, the more you have.
We are limited in that we only have one life, with a certain number of days. but what we can do with those days is limitless.
If you're looking for a way to slow down this summer, I have just the thing. Art Camp for adults gives you the chance to leave the kids (or the garden, or the dog) at home, drink some wine, and let your creativity out to play. There are two nights left - July 12th and 26th. More information here.