Friday, July 9, 2010

Where Does Stillness Lie?

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that something was amiss. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I was definitely running sub-optimally. And then, out of the blue, this word popped into my head, one I haven't experienced in a very long time: stress. I thought, "Wow, I think I'm getting stressed out!"

So, I went with it and decided to figure out why.

Over the past few months, Iris and I have been going through a lot of changes in our lives. We've been selling our place in Cambridge while preparing it for new tenants. We've been refinancing our place here in the Berkshires. We're using the proceeds from both the sale and the refinancing to purchase the property next to ours. It's a lot of moving parts that all have to work in synchrony.

I took a job that has me in New Jersey three days a week and might have me in California for a while. One business I launched has been working through the challenges of a lawsuit. Another is about to launch a new product line that depends completely on me for its development. All the while, I haven't let up on other things that I love to do such as playing with our band, No Room for Jello, writing articles for this amazing blog of ours, preparing lessons and tutorials for band mates and coworkers, and generally maintaining and fixing things around the house.

In fact, I've been increasing the volume on the last four: I've had this insatiable desire to write articles for our blog; I've been playing music throughout the week, writing and recording new songs and arrangements; I've been putting together several music and/or technology tutorials per week; and, I've been redoing all sorts of stuff in and around the house: the lawn looks amazing.

Walking Faster Up Hill
The other evening, Iris and I decided to take a walk from our house to the street. Most people wouldn't consider walking down their driveway to be a "walk", but for us it's a half mile to the road. The first half-mile is all downhill, and the second... As we walked back up to the house and the incline became steeper, Iris commented, "Why is it that you always walk faster when going up hill?"

Being from the North Holland, Iris is allergic to hills and highly sensitive to them, especially the ones that go up. I asked her what she meant by walking faster and she said, "Well, when we walked down the hill, you were doing what I would call 'strolling'. You weren't moving fast at all. Now that we're going back up to the house, the steeper the hill gets, the faster you walk."

She continued, "I wonder if it's because you're getting tired? I notice that when I get tired, I slow down and become non-communicative; when you get tired, you speed up and talk more (too much even)."

As I considered what Iris was saying, I had to agree that I was indeed walking much faster up than down. Then I considered a factor other than the hill itself: just before we'd turned around to walk back to the house, Iris had suggested that we go out for dinner. On the way down the hill, we had nothing planned and nothing to do. On the way back up the hill, there was something: dinner. And with that, I had switched modes from journey to destination.

Faithful Faith
This morning, as I read Faith's blog about being still, Still, Part 1, all the pieces fell into place for me. Over the past few months, with so much to do and so many interdependent moving parts, I've slowly shifted out of being about the journey into being about the destination. Moment by moment, the journey moments have joined the other team.

To accommodate the large influx of work, I've been working longer, harder and faster. But more importantly, I've been working in destination mode: pressuring myself to finish, anticipating what's next, in and out of the moment.

Because of working longer, harder and faster I've been sleeping only four to five hours per night and I've been getting fatigued, to which my response has been to speed up and work harder. I've even brought destination mode into music and writing and doing things around the house. I've been speeding up and working longer and harder at everything.

The result of all this has been an undercurrent of stress and fatigue, but it's been hard to spot as such because I do stress really differently than many people: I don't look stressed and fatigued, I look energized and raring to go.

Where Does Stillness Lie?
As I read Faith's blog, I realized that I've been slowly transforming everything into work, something that I'm doing because I have to. Normally not even work is work for me, but over the past few months, I've got myself into such a destination-oriented mode that even sex can feel like work.

As I considered Faith's notions of stillness and calm, I thought about taking some time to be still, to slow down, relax and meditate. But then I realized that for me, stillness does not lie in the activity, it's in the attitude I engage while conducting the activity. For years, I've been able to work long and hard with little sleep and feel completely energized. Work has been like meditation. An outside observer might see a tornado of frenzied energy, but inside I have a deep sense of stillness and tranquility.

However, as I've shifted from journey mode to destination mode, the tranquility has gone the way of a side of smoked salmon left for Mark K to slice: some of it making it to the plate and some of it disappearing along the way. At this point, there's very little salmon left.

So today, I'm going to bring stillness back into everything I do. I'm going to enjoy the roller coaster ride with my arms stretched to the sky (thank you Sree) and not think at all about "when is this ride going to be over." Each time I catch myself thinking about what's next or all that's on my plate or having to finish this in order to do that, I'm going to stop, be still and get back into journey mode.

And if that doesn't work, well, then I'll just do it harder and faster...

Happy, Stress-free Friday,

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