I’ve got to stop making my to-do list my higher power.
This realization has crept up on me over the past few years. This season of my life is full to overflowing. Mostly in good ways—I’m raising my two amazing kids, I’m reaching new levels in my relationship with my husband, and my work fulfills me. But between juggling these priorities—not to mention my relationships with other family and friends—the significant amount of self-care I require in order to maintain a reasonable baseline of mental health, and the other mundane and various responsibilities of adulting, all my resources are sucked up.
In trying to keep up with it all, I’ve become spiritually unfit and drunk on my to-do list. I’ve put work before my kids’ pleas for attention. I’ve lost time with family and friends because I felt like taking a few hours off of work would sink me deeper into overwhelm. I’ve become boring and bored, assessing my worth by how many items I check off in a given day.
This seems to be the territory of middle age, at least for those of us who struggle with organization, setting limits, or just the expansive nature of being in one of the busiest stages of life—but it’s not working.
Here are five ways to break the cycle of being a “human doing” and return to our essential selves.
1. Meditate. I know, everyone and their uncles are preaching the benefits of meditating. But there’s good reason for it. Meditation—which can be defined as simply noticing our own thought patterns—creates a buffer between our thinking brain and our spirit.
Sure, sometimes when I sit down to meditate, my mind flitters from worry to worry. But other times, I drop right into my own essential goodness. This allows me to remember the part of me that remains unchanged—the steady, good-hearted self that is enough simply by virtue of existing here in this moment. It is the animal self, the essence, that part that isn’t distracted by the minutiae of modern life. It’s the person I was the day I took my first breath, and it’ll be who I am when I take my last.
2. Stop multitasking. This is a scary one. If time is our most irreplaceable resource—the one that can never be outsourced, but that steadily drips by—then shouldn’t I listen to parenting podcasts while I’m walking outside? Shouldn’t I make all my personal phone calls while I’m (shudder) folding laundry?
The answer is—not always. I’m not planning on going cold turkey on the multitasking habit, but sometimes it just creates more noise in my already buzzing head. Sometimes I need to stop consuming information—even if it’s listening to a podcast about spirituality or something that might help me level up as a human. To connect with ourselves, we sometimes need the space of letting our minds wander, or even allowing ourselves to get bored.
3. Get outside. Yesterday, I took my daughter to the beach. I’d been irritable, PMS-ing, and, as I often am, overwhelmed. By the time we returned home, I was regulated again. Partly my mood shifted from the rare treat of one-on-one time with my delightful daughter, who giddily told me, upon darting off to stomp her feet in the frigid ocean, “My mind tells me yes, but my feet say no.” But besides the good company and spending time outdoors, being in proximity to the white noise of waves reminds us of how life exists beyond the busywork of our tasks.
4. Treat yourself like you’d treat your favorite pet. In our “worship of busy” culture, it’s easy to lose sight of how much we expect of ourselves—and of how much we’ve come to believe we have to keep up with in order to feel worthy. One way to combat this problem is to think about our favorite pets for a moment. We generally don’t expect our pets—or for that matter, our best friends—to be industrious. Rather, we value their presence, their love, and their ability to connect with us. Like our pets—like our best friends and our children—we earn our worthiness from simply being. From enduring the hard work of life. From practicing kindness, offering compassionate attention, and simple presence.
5. Think about what matters in the end. At the end of my life, I won’t be wishing I’d spent more time sweeping the floors or publishing more articles. I imagine I’ll be pondering questions like these: was I generous enough with my love and attention? Did I focus too much on the flaws of my loved ones instead of their positive traits?
I will likely wonder why I was so brutally hard on myself so often—why I was less forgiving of my own good heart. Did I appreciate the brisk gift of aliveness, of health, of being in a human body? Did I love and learn? Did I make life into a spreadsheet or checklist, or did I greet it with a wild, open, curious heart?