I love slow mornings. Though I usually wake fairly early (on my own body-clock, not with an alarm), I take my time getting out of bed, sometimes reaching for my journal or a book first. Once I’m finally out from under the covers, I go from there to the bathtub where I also take my time (with a bath that sometimes includes Epsom salts). Eventually I end up in the kitchen, where I boil water for my tea and then have a late breakfast of yoghurt, fruit, and granola. Only after all of that do I open emails and my calendar and start to figure out what the day will require of me.
This is one of the many perks of working from home and owning my own business, where I get to decide when/if I start my workday.
I used to have lots of stories about how this makes me a lazy person and how I should be more disciplined and productive and how those people with strict morning routines (especially those that include rigorous workouts) are probably better people, but then I realized that those are stories I don’t need to carry anymore. They’re stories that I’ve been taught to carry by a capitalist system with an industrial mindset that elevates the value of grind culture and being obedient and “disciplined” workers. I don’t want that to be part of my life or the culture of my business, so I get to make my own rules. I’m always going to choose the “rules” that honour my humanity, my needs, and my own internal rhythms. (I put disciplined in quotation marks, because there are lots of other ways to bring discipline to your work without being attached to an arbitrary time clock.)
The further I get from a traditional workplace (it’s been ten years now), the more attuned I’ve become to my own natural rhythms and ways of working. As a writer/thinker/creator, I need lots of quiet time to process ideas and get lost in contemplation. I need slow mornings and long walks and/or bike rides to let my mind wrap itself around new ideas. Sometimes I need to check out of social media for awhile and be in conversation only with the voices in my own head (or with the squirrel currently perched on the branch outside my window). That’s not “wasted” time the way my socially conditioned inner critic sometimes tries to convince me it is. It’s actually very productive time, because it’s where my ideas are generated and played with before they end up on the page or in a workshop.
Because I intentionally carve out these times for myself, and I spend lots of time playing with ideas before sharing them with my readers or students, I also have rather remarkable capacity for high-intensity production when the ideas land in their more fully formed shape. That’s when it’s time to engage another of my favourite practices… I go away for a week, to a cabin or a place loaned to me by a friend, and I create a surprising volume of content – often working for twelve-hour days. That’s how I’ve written my book and created most of my courses – in short, intense, and focused bursts (that follow long, slow, meandering times of contemplation).
I have learned that these ways of functioning likely mean that I am on the spectrum for ADHD. As some have said, “attention deficit” is probably a misnomer and it should instead be called “attention dysregulation” – because people with ADHD might have a deficit of attention at times, when they’re doing things they don’t love to do, but then they become hyper-focused when they’re doing something that they love to do (as when I’m alone with my ideas in a cabin in the woods, or I’m building something with wood).
I feel privileged in that I have the opportunity to craft a life that works well with my own internal rhythm and the way my brain works. It not only serves me well, but it allows me to serve other people well. I have more capacity to hold space for other people because I am well-resourced and in a rhythm that fits me. And I have the capacity to adjust the rhythm of my days so that I can do things like meet my family’s needs and spend time with friends during times when they are available.
Many others are forced to live with rhythms, rules, and structures that don’t fit them nearly as well. Sometimes, in fact, there’s a certain violence to the way we try to force humans to fit into mechanized structures – especially when those humans are neurodivergent or disabled or otherwise disadvantaged by those structures. Our systems lose their humanity and begin to assume that we are all machines that need to function in a prescribed way in order to keep the system functioning well. And when we don’t function that way, the system creates narratives that shame us into thinking we are deficient and have less value because of it.
I wonder what it would look like to build systems and workplaces that do a better job of honouring human rhythms, capacity and needs. I wonder what we’d need to change in order to value people as they ARE rather than as we EXPECT them to be. I realize that in certain industries it might not work, but far too many workplaces still function as though every workplace is a factory that produce widgets rather than a place focused on serving the needs of real and complex humans.
As Krista and I build the Centre for Holding Space, we are doing our best to keep humanity at the centre of our organization and to disrupt any of the old patterns that have been normalized by capitalism but that might not serve us well. Sometimes we have to dig deeply and do some uncomfortable work to uncover our own social conditioning about the “right” ways to do things, and sometimes it’s easier to just accept “the way things have always been done”. But we know that change doesn’t come without some measure of disruption, and so we’re doing our best to walk our talk.
I encourage you to consider how your life might have been unknowingly structured by systems that don’t put your humanity at the centre. Perhaps you’ve bought into a lifestyle that doesn’t match your rhythm or capacity? Maybe you’re inadvertently doing violence to yourself because of the social conditioning that’s taught you to assume there is no other way?
I believe that this is one of the gifts of this pandemic. It has allowed us to re-imagine workplaces and expectations around how and when people will work. If we pay attention, and open ourselves to change, perhaps we’ll find ourselves moving into more human-centred environments.
Even if you’re not in a position to change how, when, and where you work, perhaps there are changes you can make to your life to honour yourself more? Maybe it’s a simple matter of accepting that you have a different rhythm than other people and that doesn’t make you wrong? Maybe you need to wake up later (or earlier), move more (or less), slow down (or speed up), spend more (or less) time alone, be in nature more, and/or find new ways to engage your creative energy?
In the movie, Sound of Metal, Ruben, a drummer in a heavy metal band, begins to lose his hearing. Fearing that he might slip back into addiction because of it, his girlfriend helps him check in to a facility for deaf recovering addicts. Joe, the man who runs the facility, encourages Ruben to find his way to stillness and acceptance, but Ruben is resistant, and much of the movie is about his determination to find his way back to his old life. In one scene, when he’s meant to be sitting alone, writing his thoughts in a journal, he smashes a donut as a distraction. Near the end of the movie, there’s a powerful moment in which Ruben finally surrenders to stillness and acceptance.
I am neither a rockstar nor in recovery, but I do have some things in common with Ruben and can understand some of his resistance. Here, for example, is a recent conversation that went on in my brain on a recent morning when I was sitting on the dock with my journal:
Voice 1: Oooo… look at the waves in the water! The way they reflect the light and sparkle! And the way they break up into pieces when they hit the dock and then bounce back to meet the oncoming waves!
Voice 2: It’s lovely! And… I can think of a blog post I could write, using the waves as a metaphor…
Voice 1: Can’t we just stay with the waves right now? A blog post can wait. Just look! And enjoy!
Voice 2: But if I don’t write something down, I might miss a valuable insight and… (grabs journal)
Voice 1: Stay with the waves. Put your journal down and just be present.
Voice 2: I should probably take a picture of it for social media, to go along with the blog post… (grabs camera)
Voice 1: STAY WITH THE WAVES!
Voice 2: Look! There’s a duck. Maybe the metaphor could expand to include what it’s like to be floating on the waves.
Voice 1: Take a deep breath. Maybe we can stay with the breath AND the waves? Please? At least try?
Voice 3: Oooo… I should write a blog post about how my brain works when I’m trying to stay with the waves! (grabs journal again.)
Voice 1: Seriously? Like we needed ANOTHER distraction? Can’t we just stay with the waves?
Voice 4: What a big waste of time THIS was!
Yup – that’s how hard it is for me to settle into stillness, even though I’ve been trying to be intentional about it for years and I try at least once a day to be in a place (like the dock) where stillness is hard to resist. If there is a spectrum for ADHD, then my busy distractible brain is definitely on it. I may not be an addict, but like an addict, my brain craves the dopamine hits it gets from creative ideas and shiny things and it’s hard to resist giving in to the cravings.
A few days later, I arrived back at the dock to find the water perfectly still. It was so still that you couldn’t tell the river was flowing at all except for those spots where there was something floating on the surface of the water. When I stepped onto the floating dock, the dock’s movement was the only thing that made ripples. After I’d settled down on the dock with my journal, the following conversation happened in my brain.
Voice 1: It’s so peaceful. Let’s just soak this in for a moment and be present.
Voice 2: But… I should take a picture of the water. And the clouds reflecting on the water. I could post it on Instagram. (grabs camera)
Voice 1: Look… every time you move on this floating dock, you’re causing ripples on the surface of the water. What if we try to sit so quietly that we cause no ripples?
Voice 2: But… I need a picture. And I should write in my journal about how peaceful it is. And…
Voice 1: Maybe you should first EXPERIENCE the stillness before you decide to write about it? Take long slow breaths and don’t move any muscles – let’s see if the ripples disappear.
Voice 2: Ooo… the metaphor! When there’s no movement on the water, you get a clearer reflection of the clouds! It’s like a mirror! You can see yourself more clearly when you’re still!
Voice 1: Not that you would know, since you apparently don’t know how to BE still!
Voice 2: Okay, have it your way. I won’t write or take pictures until we’ve stopped moving enough to let the water settle into stillness.
Voice 1: (closes her eyes and takes slow breaths)
Voice 2: (opens her eyes) Oooo…. Look! We did it! The water is like glass again!
Voice 1: Maybe don’t be TOO proud of yourself. That kinda ruins the point of the whole exercise.
Voice 3: Hmmmm… you’re both giving me great material for my blog post about how my brain works!
Voice 2: I just thought of another metaphor!! The water in a river is only calm like this when the pressure on the higher end of the river decreases. When there’s been too much rain or melting snow, the river needs to move faster to try to get to equilibrium. So if you want stillness, you need to decrease input and wait for the water to settle!
Voice 1: I give up.
Voice 4: I knew it all along. You suck at stillness.
Does this internal dialogue sound familiar to anyone else or is it just me? This is why I have to WORK at stillness – it doesn’t happen naturally! It’s also why I sometimes disappear from social media for a week and hide out in a cabin in the woods when I really need to focus on an important project. I love my distractible, creative brain, but I need to give it some guardrails and point it in the direction of the right things.
This year has been especially taxing for my overly active brain. While building a business, launching a book, and creating several new programs has been fun for the part of my brain that craves dopamine, it’s also been exhausting to do it all in the unfamiliar landscape of a pandemic. My brain needs a break! And so does my body. And my heart.
So I’m taking a couple of months off, and I’m going to do my best to listen to Voice 1 and STAY WITH THE WAVES! I’m going to see if my body and mind can stay still long enough to smooth the surface of the water. And I’m going to reduce input and output so that equilibrium feels more like a possibility and the waves can settle for awhile before the next big rainstorm comes.
Before I go, though, I wanted to let you know that I will not be leaving you without content for the next two months! (In fact, it seems something about the upcoming sabbatical prompted my creative brain to go into a frenzy and I’ve created more content than ever!) Here’s what you can expect in the next 8 weeks:
1. I’ve written a series of short posts that will go out to my list (and appear on my blog) every Monday for eight weeks.
2. I’m sharing a daily poem on my author page on Facebook. (I have an extensive collection of poems I like to read as openers when I host conversations and retreats – these are some of my favourites.)
4. Though I’ll be mostly away from social media, I might occasionally post a photo or video of my summer wanderings on my own Instagram, likely with the hashtag #pauseandbenourished.
5. My business partner, Krista, has been creating fun daily Tiktok videos that are worth checking out. One of the things she’s doing is pulling a daily card from our Holding Space Card Deck. (@centre_for_holding_space)