Have you ever stopped whatever you were doing to simply observe your thoughts? Yes, to do nothing else but watch the nonstop activity of the mind—without doing anything to fix or change what’s going on in there?
If you took that experience and multiplied it by 24 hours and then again by 14 days, that basically describes two weeks I spent on the island of Patmos in Greece this past May. For practiced meditators like my husband, it’s called a meditation retreat. Depending on the day you ask me (a relative newbie to these closed-eye marathons), it’s called being-with-a-mind-that-won’t-shut-up… or, just plain hell.
This is not your typical ascetic experience where you sit in a lotus position for hours on end. This retreat is the deluxe version held at a beautiful hotel with sweeping views of the Aegean. Every day is a feast of fabulous 70-degree weather, gourmet vegetarian dinners, fun-loving participants, inspiring teachers, soul-feeding lessons in human consciousness. Two whole weeks where I am given permission (instructed, actually) to do absolutely nothing…and take nothing seriously.
Heaven, you might say, except for the fact that I feel completely consumed by the orgy of thinking that is taking place in my mind. Watching the gluttony of self-importance churning in my head is exhausting, even nauseating sometimes. And my whole body hurts. The fact that I happen to be on one of the most beautiful places on the planet is lost on me.
So why do something in paradise that is so not pleasing? I ask myself this question countless times, while I thrash about like an addict in rehab, ready to bolt at any minute. The answer: “Week two.”
Disarming the monkey mind (ego) and unwinding from a lifetime of spinning—“very important”—thought-bulletins like; “I need a cup of coffee…Caffeine is bad…My back hurts… I hate this…I love this… I signed up for this?! …Thirteen-and-a-half days to go…Everyone is ‘getting this’ but me…My back hurts …” takes time.
It’s not the thoughts themselves, I discover, but the constant chewing (identifying, personalizing, feeding, attaching to) them that is so tiring. When I stop chewing, the relief is instantaneous. Like the relief you feel in your mouth when you finally remember to spit out the tasteless wad of gum.
Though the mind has no concept of this (and never will)—and employs a spectacular array of stealth tactics to charm us back into our old habits—the alternative to a “grasping” way of life is pretty darn sweet. It’s the magic that happens when we choose ease. Or take nothing personally. Or surrender to that deep silent space within us that simply knows.
By the end of my second week of mindful non-doing, something begins to poke through the noise and clutter of my mind. Nothing fancy or earth shattering, really. No fireworks or big revelations.
What comes into focus is me. Like those three-dimensional puzzles where the image pops in fully-formed when you soften your gaze: It’s the “me” that has been there all along. The me smiling with her husband in the photo—just hangin’...in that timeless space where everything feels sparkly, uncomplicated, and clear.
Living in present time. Now that is paradise!
Wishing you a summer of ease and peace and joy.
Go Slow to Go Fast
I received this email from a participant of one of my workshops recently that gave me pause:
“Dear Stephanie… I love your motto, ‘go slow to go fast.’* Unfortunately I've never been good at "going slow"! When I was in high school, I wanted to be in college. When I was single, I wanted to be married. When I was married, I wanted to be a mother. I then quickly learned that you shouldn't wish your life away, as my first husband was diagnosed with lymphoma and after 7 years, he passed away...” [*One of the chapters in my book is called “Go Slow to Go Fast.”]
So why are we in such a rush? What is it exactly that we’re rushing for? In our endless pursuit of the “perfect life,” ironically, we miss out on the best parts. Is it possible that rushing is just another invention of the grasping mind (see previous section) designed to distract us from what is right in front of us? What would happen to our lives—our productivity, our relationships, our perception of success, our quality of life—if we responded differently and just slowed down? Way down.
Here’s an invitation: Next time you feel the urge to rush (…or you feel stressed, or rattled, or jangled, or your buttons get pressed) try this four-step process at least once a day for a week (or month) and see what happens:
- Take a breath.
Allow things to be just as they are. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel without attaching any meaning to it, fixing it, or taking it personally.
If you own a copy of my book, Your Spacious Self, you can deepen (and sweeten) your experience even more by dropping one of the “Softening Attitudes” (phrases listed on pages 68 and 110) into your practice as an additional Step 5.
Repeat these steps, with awareness, and see if you notice anything different in your experience of, or outlook on life. Perhaps it’s an ah-ha, or a synchronicity, or an opportunity that has eluded you. Perhaps it’s a feeling of relief (and lightness) that comes from knowing that your life doesn’t depend on holding on to every little bit of stress, or worry. Perhaps is just the feeling of having more room to breathe…
Let me know if, and how, this simple little practice in surrender is making a difference in your life! Email Stephanie
Clearing Circle Testimonial
It is supremely gratifying for me to hear from folks who have formed their own Clearing Circle.
One reader who formed her own clearing group in Chicago wrote me recently to say:
“[we’ve been] excited about our clearing journeys - ranging from basements, to email inboxes, to smaller steps (like you say - one paper clip at a time)… just putting the dental floss back every night in the same place has been MIND BLOWING!! Truly! And has flowed into other areas!…” Read her letter.
Do you have an ongoing Clearing Circle? I’d love to hear how it’s working for you. Email Stephanie
Star in My Next Book
It feels like I have another book in me that wants to be born in a big way! The idea for this new project is inspired by what women have been sharing in my workshops over the past few years… [in no particular order]:
- I’ve lost my sense of myself.
- Clutter is in my body, in the hours, the schedules…
- I find myself clearing out my son’s bookcase or daughter’s, avoiding my own.
- The phrase “I choose ease” makes my skin crawl.
- I’m so envious of people who are able to get things done.
- I have a friend who when she spreads the peanut butter does it in a sacred way. I love that.
- There’s a loud voice in me saying: “Let me out!”
As natural-born nurturers, ironically, it is women who have the hardest time giving themselves the time and permission to nourish themselves. For many it may not be a question of desire to slow down and simplify, or urgent need to feed the soul. It’s that they’ve forgotten how.
I’d like to write a book that helps women remember who they are; a book that addresses this deep yearning for personal space and how to make room for it. I’d like to feature inspiring yet practical stories of women describing what they do every day to nurture themselves and restore balance.
Is there something special you do every day that nourishes you, tends your home, and/or honors your life? If so, I’d love to read it and maybe include it in my next book! You can share it by clicking here: Email Stephanie [P.S. Anything you send me will be held in total confidence and will not be used without your consent.]
Search Inside Your Spacious Self
Amazon has this really cool feature called “Search Inside.” You can now peek inside my book Your Spacious Self and get a better feel for it: see the entire Table of Contents, read a sample chapter, skim the back cover, view a full size version of the front cover. Click below the book cover where it reads “Search inside this book.”
Calendar & Fall Offerings
Back by popular demand: I am offering another six-week Clearing Circle series for women at The Women’s Well in West Concord, MA. Monday evenings: October 13, 20, 27; November 10, 17, 24, 2008 (Note: No gathering on Nov. 3). Learn more.
I am teaching a Space Clearing Certificate Program in 2008-09 beginning the weekend of September 21-22, 2008 at the New England School of Feng Shui, in Connecticut. Learn more.
I have developed an inspiring one-hour talk called Publish Your Book, which I presented at a writer’s conference last February. I am available to give this talk to any interest group in the Greater Boston area and hope soon to offer a Tele-conference on the subject. Learn more.
Web Site: www.spaceclear.com
Clearing a path to your true nature—
one step, drawer, or moment at a time.
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