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When life gets crazy (and it’s mid-May, which means life is definitely crazy because we’re coming to the end of the school year) my tolerance for messes in my house (which is never great in the first place) goes way down. During these times, I’m not the most fun to live with. My typically calm demeanor gets frayed. I become a bit of a whirling dervish. Belongings left laying about are especially vulnerable to being left in a pile on your pillow (this includes filthy sneakers) or summarily tossed into the garbage. Over the years, I’ve figured out that this is my way of maintaining some type of control during times when I’m feeling mostly out of control.
Over the years, I’ve also learned that while a neat house makes me feel settled and sane, the frenzy and friction of maintaining this state does not, so I’ve been working on other coping mechanisms. The one that has worked the best for me is simply a different take on my instinctual need to surround myself with order. When my days get crazy, I redouble my commitment to my schedule and to the practices that help me live like the kind of person I hope to be rather than the kind of person who throws out someone’s socks because they weren’t in the hamper.
Instead of trying to control others, I work on controlling myself.
What are the things that I’ve built into my days to center, settle and energize myself?
Nothing overly profound. No magic bullets. A predictable schedule – waking and going to sleep at roughly the same time. Daily movement – for me, I choose yoga. And (this one’s really important), a daily time of stillness and turning inward. I choose to attach my time of quiet to my time of movement. Yoga settles my mind even while my body is moving. I’ve added on two brief times of meditation and prayer to the beginning and end of my practice. You could do the same with your workout or run. What’s important is that this quiet time not get lost in the shuffle of your crazy days.
But let’s get real. I have to admit that there are many days when I’m feeling so squeezed that my heart just isn’t in it. I’m stressed. I’m distracted. I’m feeling scattered and out of control. But I take a deep breath and I do what I know works. Honestly, sometimes I’m pretty much faking it. But I’ve learned that there is truth in the saying that you can “fake it ‘til you make it.”
Do I want to get up at 5:30 when chaos has left me feeling exhausted? Absolutely not. But I don’t succumb to the temptation to just sleep until I wake up. I know from experience that can leave me groggy and panicked about lost time. Instead, I stick to my normal rhythm and set the alarm to wake as usual at the crack of dawn.
Though my list of things to do seems endless, I also resist the temptation to stay up late or to spend an extra hour working on my computer. I know from experience that staring at screens too close to bedtime makes it hard for me to fall asleep. I also know from experience that staying up late throws off my sleep even more profoundly than “screen time.” Somehow my body shifts back into full throttle “awake” mode if I stay up a couple of hours later than usual. So it’s early to rise and early to bed for me, especially when life is crazy.
Though my days feel cramped and pinched for time, I never, ever skip my yoga practice. And, though it is wildly tempting to speed through or abbreviate my practice when life is bananas, I deliberately make myself slow down. In the beginning, the five breaths that I take in each posture feel interminable. But, posture by posture, I gradually settle down. The steady breath of my practice eases my racing brain and heart. And, while my mind may rev right back up as I lay down in savasana, I hold firm to my resolve. Sometimes I even set an alarm to make sure I rest for at least 5 minutes at the end of practice. I do it because I know it’s good for me.
When I sit up from my rest, I resist the urge to sprint back out into my day. I cross my legs, press my palms together at my heart, and close my eyes. I take a few deep breaths until I feel my mind slow and my heart open. I bow my head to the floor and pause there. Then I give myself over to my day – whatever it may bring. I pray to meet the gifts and the challenges of the day with all of me – body, mind and spirit. I pray to delight in the day – even the hard parts. I pray to stay focused – drawing my awareness (over and over again) away from my long list and back to each of the steps along my way.
I pray the same prayer every single day – wildly busy or blissfully calm – and I mean it every single time. And, every single time, it resets something deep within me. Suddenly, I’m not faking it anymore. And I feel confident that I will make it.
Photo Cred: The amazing Amanda Zavodnick.