It’s been a busy day. I woke up at 7 having had some troubling nightmares. Dreams of trying my hardest and still failing, because people changed things without telling me, or I was utterly in the wrong place at the wrong time. I woke up angry and cold, grumpy and tired, and it took me an hour to convince myself that the small pleasure of staying in bed scrolling through facebook was not as tempting as the prospect of getting up and doing something better with my time.
Feeling sorry for myself, I watched anime, waiting to feel less miserable. No such luck. After an hour, while I was enjoying the minor distraction, I was feeling frustrated and now stressed that time was running short. It’s such a hard choice for me to get up and embrace life rather than curl up and seek pleasure after a rough night.
The day was busy – apart from one game of Overwatch, it was very “productive”. I cleaned, ran errands with Beth, wrote emails and prepared for supervision. I met with people, I got things done, and I moved quickly and efficiently, crossing 14 things off my To-Do List (some of them taking several hours).
And yet, the more focussed I became on completing tasks, the more desperate I was to continue completing tasks. I began to spiral, trying to do more and more with less and less. I began micromanaging my time into fifteen minute blocks again, thinking “Well if I can finish dinner by 6, that’ll give me enough time to eat before training. It’ll take me two hours to cook, so I need to start by 4. I’ll get home at 4:30, so I’ll need to cook faster, or just take time out of my digestion time slot and go to training full…” Getting more and more desperate, stealing more and more time, falling further and further behind and always playing catchup. And always thinking of the next couple of items on the list, wondering how I’ll fit them in today, knowing deep down that it’s impossible but still feeling frustrated that I can’t find a way to make it happen.
Before karate, I wrote a note in my phone to bring up with my counsellor.
“I’m super stressed at the moment. I’ve vomited twice in three days and am feeling anxious every day. I feel so stressed all the time – like I’m drowning, the waves crashing over my head, and I’m exhausted. I have just enough strength to keep kicking to get my head above water for just long enough to take enough breath to just keep kicking. There are so many things that I wanted to do today that I didn’t get around to, and I’m drowning I’m drowning I’m drowning.
I keep feeling like I’m going to cry.”
It was hard for me to get into karate, but I did. The longer I did it, the more I enjoyed it, until the end my heart was light and my mind was sharp. I was tired, it’s true, but I was happy. And then as I got in the car to go home, I began to think of that To-Do List and I started to feel the weight again. But before I let it gain too much momentum, I wanted to write this down to remind myself later:
Xin, there are times when you become so stressed you lose perspective. You focus on the minutae, getting closer and closer to the details without having any sight of the big picture. You’ve stepped out of Flow and you haven’t even noticed it. In those moments you really get caught up in how important it is to write one more email, or cross one more thing off the list; when you start stealing time because you don’t have enough to do the things you feel you need to. It is precisely at those moments you need to Slow. The Fuck. Down.
Practice some mindfulness. Do some yoga. Have a shower. Go for a run or a hike. Breathe, watch something, play something. Hit the reset button however you can.
And don’t expect to hit it within five minutes. If your distress levels are super high, it’s going to take a little while to properly bring them back down into the green. And it’s so damn important that you get them back in the green, because when you’re in Flow, when you’re one with the Tao, when you’re centred and calm, you’re making good decisions. You’re using your time and energy well, in ways that count. You’re noticing how you are and what you need, and you’re making informed decisions about what to do with yourself. That is you at your best, and it is super important to spend as much of every day as possible in that zone. Make time for it. Because if you’re a slave to your To-Do List, none of it matters.