Hi, I’m Adele, and I need to stop doing. There, I said it. It’s a little scary to put those words out there for everyone to hear. Good God, will you now think of me as a slacker? Or are you secretly just as tired and worn out as I am?
It’s funny, I can now say the words and not feel like such a failure that I couldn’t manage it all and still get enough rest, stay perky, floss regularly and get to bed before the late-late show.
With my stunning announcement, I notice that the world hasn’t stopped rotating on its axis. The sun is still shining, and there continues to be a line at Starbucks looking for caffeinated jump-starts.
Ok, I am feeling frisky here. I am going to say it again, but before I do, are you old enough to remember Dick Clark and his “American Bandstand” television show? He used to play a song a second time and say something like, “Let’s do this once more with feeling.”
So, here goes, once more with feeling, “I NEED TO STOP DOING.”
Wow. I can feel the truth of those words, and it reverberates in my being. Both my body and soul take a huge, collective sigh of relief. It has been a long time coming, and I have finally gotten the message: it is time to take a break.
You see, I am a chronic doer. I am a whirling dervish of activity. I can go, go, go. I have for years – and my perpetually tired eyes tell the tale.
This epiphany happened last week. There I was cross-checking my “to do” lists (yes, lists plural). I had a myriad of details dancing in my head. I was busily plotting and planning, happy as can be, when I was struck by a wild, uninvited thought, a bit like St. Paul when he was propelled from his horse. This thought was not on my radar screen; it felt like it came from a universe far, far away. I almost expected the hand of God to come down and tug on my ear lobe, just to make sure I heard the message loud and clear.
My hand, holding my note-taking pen, dangled in mid-air. My head was lifted; my ear was cocked. I was unable to move. God really grabbed my attention. I was, as the saying goes, momentarily struck dumb, but in this case, I was struck smart.
This was my conversion experience.
My first thought was to pull out my trusty clipboard and create a stop-doing strategy. I would break it down into manageable tasks. It’s like that African proverb, “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.” I am good at figuring out those bite-sized actions and what better way to initiate a new way of non-doing than to have a plan.
Then it dawns on me that creating an action plan to stop doing was a bit, shall we say, antithetical to the whole notion of inaction.
If am a non-doer, then how do I get anything done? Will my life be taken over with piles of disorganized detritus? Will my laundry dance around my apartment doing the stinky slide? Will the tax collector, electric company, and mail carrier secretly mark my front door as one who has stopped doing?
The prospect of not doing, ironically, gives me pause. What does this non-doing look like? Clearly, I need to run my life, but how? I know there is a twist in here.
And the twist, I have come to realize, starts with how I think. I do not have to do everything. I can say no; there’s a novel concept. I can, as the saying goes, stop being a human doing, and become a human being. I can cease the mad dash through life and can stop to smell that coffee … no wait, the coffee would get me all hyped again. I can stop and smell the flowers.
Years ago, I heard the story of a woman who was so exhausted that she chose to take a few months off and go live in the woods. She realized that she had been running all of her life, at the beck and call of family, friends and employer. In the midst of that busyness she had lost herself. She was too tired to think about what she needed; she was very good at reacting, anticipating and planning.
One day, she felt the serious call to stop doing; she knew she was in danger of risking her health, so off she paraded into the woods with all of her carefully purchased supplies and beautifully annotated contingencies in place.
And do you know what happened? She slept for three weeks, pretty much non-stop. She stopped. Her body went clunk; it refused to take another step further. She could only rest and sleep and eat mouthfuls of trail mix.
This woman was not simply over tired; she was engulfed in what is known as the Profound Fatigue that hits you smack in your personal battery pack when you have been running, running, running for way too long. At the end of three weeks, she got up, stretched and decided to do life a little differently.
I’m with the lady in the woods; I am ready to do my life a little differently. I have slowly ungripped my iron grasp on my planner. I have walked away from my color-coded and cross-referenced lists. I have chosen to be daring: I am going to stop, to heal and to listen.
My body needs to recalibrate its biorhythms and find a sleep schedule that does not include getting up as well as going to bed in the morning hours; too many AM’s here. I need to remember how eat a meal in more human and less wolf-like way; three gulps and a swallow over the kitchen sink does not make for fine dining, and a dinner of popcorn misses some of the basic food groups.
I have discovered that with all that busyness and mental chatter, it’s hard to listen. And I want to listen to what the gods have to tell me. I am in that place in my life where I need to listen; the gods hold my next agenda. Tricky, aren’t they? I can’t get the next agenda until I slow down, stop and listen. And, in order to do that, I need to submerge my self in what cultural anthropologist, Angeles Arrien, calls the sweet territory of silence.
So, that’s where you will find me, at the corner of Quiet and Still. I will be the one with the oversized sunglasses and the big, goofy grin who appears to be listening to some inaudible song as I sit peacefully and take in the view.
Care to join me? There’s room on the bench.