I used to just plow through life at warp speed and rarely slow down to rest or relax, let alone smell the roses. I own my own business and have two young kids and like a lot of people juggle a lot. I was happy being busy, but at times it was downright exhausting.
Then tragedy struck. My husband was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. My boys were only 2 and 4 years old at the time. We took our fight to Germany for some integrative medicine in addition to chemotherapy here in the US. There’s nothing like a tragedy to set you on a different path in life–and this one was bittersweet. I lost Stephen after an 11-month fight, but the lessons I learned changed me forever.
I remember one time we were walking from the clinic to our hotel in Germany. It was early Spring, and Stephen stopped us in our tracks. I thought something was wrong and I looked at him alarmed, thinking he was going to get sick or pass out or something. He simply smiled and pointed down at the ground. “Do you see that?” he said. I looked at where he was pointing and you could barely see the beginning of tulips poking out of the ground. He grabbed my hands and looked me directly in the eye and said…
“I want you to always remember to stop and look at the life around you. Slow down enough to notice and enjoy the flowers and hear the birds and notice the stars in the sky. God has placed so many beautiful things all around us and I never want you to be too busy to miss them.”
Wow. I’ll never forget his words, and I think of him often as I see beautiful flowers in the ground. After his passing I realized that life was passing me by and while I thought I was happy and enjoying life, really I was just busy. I became a crazed single mom who felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. It wasn’t fun. I cried daily, in part from grief and in part from sheer exhaustion and exasperation. On the outside I looked like I was coping well with my husband’s death and still “doing it all.” On the inside I was barely holding it together.
I started to realize that every single person in my life would say things like, “I know you’re really busy, but…” and then continue the conversation. I wasn’t being invited to social activities or coffee or lunch dates with friends because everyone thought I was too busy. In reality, I was too busy. Too busy to enjoy life. Too busy when Stephen was alive to go on frequent enough date nights and time alone with him. Too busy and tired to give my best energy to my boys, who matter most to me in life.
I was fed up. Fed up with falling into bed at the end of each day with deep fatigue. Fed up with not noticing the stars, the birds, or the flowers around me.
While I have light years yet to go, I made some changes in my life. My recipe for living in the here and now:
- Daily Prayer. While always spiritual, I’ve deepened my relationship with God through a daily devotional and meaningful prayers.
- Gratitude journal. Each night I think of at least one thing that made me happy that I am grateful that day. I am starting to do this with my boys as I put them to bed and it’s fun to see what part of their day stood out most to them.
- Meditation. I never knew how to properly meditate until recently. Sometimes I will stop at some benches near my house overlooking a big cross and a lake in the background for a few quiet moments. It’s a good place to clear my head after work and before I pick up the boys. Other times I put on a 20 minute guided meditation. Both do wonders to bring clarity to my life.
- Bikram Yoga. Another newbie in my life. Bikram yoga is also known as “hot” yoga, I am hooked on this 90-minute, 26-pose class. It’s strength, flexibility, cardio, and meditation in one gloriously sweaty session. In the few months I have been going weekly, I have improved my focus as well as the numerous physical benefits.
- Schedule. I schedule myself with time to get from place to place without rushing. I have lunch with friends. I stop working early many days to take care of me or spend with my boys.
- Priorities. As a general rule, I don’t check email or work after 5 PM or on weekends. Of course there are some exceptions, but I have made a huge effort to make my boys the priority during these times. I am making the same amount of money, and I am much happier.
- Therapy. I started seeing a therapist a few months after Stephen was diagnosed and I continue to see her–going on 3 years now. I can’t speak highly enough of being able to have someone to talk to, to have that person help me see things differently and offer a perspective and homework that only a trained therapist can give.
- Massage. I exercise hard. Daily. My body needs to relax and my muscles need recovery. I never realized the true benefits of regular massage until I committed myself to doing it consistently. My body and mind truly recover from those hours on the table.
- Love. If I was too busy to have lunch with friends, you’d better believe I was too busy for a relationship. Until I slowed down. Then I met John and suddenly I had time and energy to put towards a new relationship. We will be married in April. I would have missed out on this amazing love if I had continued to be too busy. I love love. It’s the best feeling in the world. I’m surrounded by it, and I’ve learned to embrace it, nurture it, and grow it.
- Making the choice to be present. Have you ever talked to someone who is looking around at others in the restaurant instead of you, who is right in front of them? Have you ever had a conversation with someone who looks directly at you and makes you feel like you are the only person on the planet in that moment? I want to be that second person. When I am present, I want to be fully present, especially with the people who matter most to me. It’s a work in progress as distractions are rampant in our lives, but being conscious of it is the first step.