My partner is away doing some cat-sitting, so it’s just me and our cat, Genevieve, in the living room as I write this today. There’s a delicious silence in here right now as I look around the room at our Christmas decorations, and catch the scent of the “fir and fireside” candle my friend gave me a few days ago.
This was a full year for me, with lots of coaching work, and (as for all of us) the continuation of the pandemic, and at times I felt like I was running on empty. It’s been at those moments when I’ve been reminded, once again, to walk my talk about self-care.
Over the years I have taken many courses with Mark Silver of Heart of Business (I highly recommend both his Heart of Money and The Heart of Your Business courses), and one of the things I appreciate again and again is his reminder of the importance of taking time to process and integrate what we are learning in our businesses, in our lives.
I’ve mentioned many times in my writing here the illness that hit me around the time I turned twenty-five — half a lifetime ago now! That was the year, in retrospect, of The Giant Pause. I was forced to step back and take care of myself. It was kind of a forced reboot, in that it became clear I couldn’t live in the “push forward” way I had been up until that point.
Although I’ve had to “reboot” many times since then, I’ve never quite hit the wall in the way I did at that point, and I think that’s because I have woven time to process and integrate the changes I’ve been through regularly — when I “keep going” too much and too far without pausing to process what I’ve experienced, my body starts giving me warnings: I get headaches, I’m less articulate, my sleep isn’t good, I don’t feel present for my relationships or my clients.
In working with many coaching clients over the past eleven (!) years, I’ve come to see that I was hardly alone in my tendency to push and push without pausing. Why did I do it? Why do they do it? I think it’s because continually pushing forward upholds the illusion that we are in control of our lives if we just keep doing enough.
But it’s a slippery slope, because a) what is enough? Is this a helpful question? Can it actually be answered from our minds? Isn’t “enough” a feeling of satisfaction? Isn’t “enough” experienced in stillness, in noticing what is already here? (That’s often my experience, anyway.)
And b): If the whole of our identity comes through pushing and “getting stuff done,” what happens when we are no longer (either temporarily or permanently) able to push? My long illness way back when showed me the way to a more all-encompassing sense of identity, one that wasn’t based on what I was able to do, but on who I was at that moment in time, and beneath that, simply the being energy that moved through me always, even when I was absolutely still in a hospital bed.
And c): Constantly pushing our way through our lives keeps us out of touch with our emotions (or, at least, with some of our emotions, and we need to feel all of them!) — particularly sadness, which, as I often note to my clients, is the “letting go” emotion. If we don’t allow sadness, we hang on to things.
Sadness isn’t always here because we’ve experienced a big loss or disappointment — it’s also about the bittersweet quality that we sense as life moves on, and feeling it allows us to more smoothly move forward with our lives — by pausing to allow this letting go emotion to come up and out. Seems like a paradox, yes? The more we push to avoid feeling, the more we tend to get stuck.
How do you know it’s time to pause to process and integrate what you’ve been learning in your life, or the change that’s occurred? As I mentioned above, my body gives me signals — they’re subtle at first, but become more pronounced the longer it takes me to listen to them. In addition, clients have reported to me that when they haven’t taken time to slow down and “pause and process,” they notice the following things:
- Feeling empty and dissatisfied — things that are supposed to be “fun,” like hanging out with friends, feel more like “going through the motions”
- Having a hard time making decisions — everything seems to have equal importance
- Feeling exhausted — but rest doesn’t feel replenishing
- Having a hard time falling asleep, or staying asleep
- Putting in all the “right” actions, but the desired result doesn’t happen, or if it does, it feels less than satisfying
- A vague feeling of disconnection from themselves (note that “vague” feelings tend to be covers for deeper, more specific feelings — the experience of something being “vague,” I’ve found, is code for I don’t want to go there)
We’ll each have our unique symptoms and signs that clue us in to it being time to “pause and process,” but the above are some biggies that I hear about a lot.
I’ll admit that I had considered not taking this week off from coaching, not completely! Even after all these years, there is still a strong voice within me, a part of me, which is really afraid of “not doing enough,” of not being of service to others, of being “idle” (as my grandma would have put it). This part of me is unable to embrace nuances — its thinking tends to be of the all-or-nothing variety, and it feels fearful and anxious all the time.
So I need to recognize it and remind myself that the whole of me is much more than this one part of me; this one part doesn’t get to call all the shots. I’m so grateful I didn’t act on its urgings to overwork myself here at the end of the year, because now I am reaping the benefits of taking time for self-connection: a regulated nervous system, connection to insight, and a budding feeling of openness where, previously, something felt closed.
What are the signs, for you, that it’s time to pause and process? How might you give yourself permission to do it? What are the benefits of allowing yourself this time and space? I’d love to hear from you.
Wishing you the time and space you need to connect with yourself as we move into a new year.
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Above photos by Niels van Dijk on Unsplash and by Jessica Delp on Unsplash