What do you see in the above picture? Do you have the time to truly connect with and notice your surroundings… or are you always too busy?

Summer has flown by, and my girls just started school. As always, how I planned to balance my “to do list” with my girls’ needs didn’t quite happen.  I’ve been trying to start a business and finish an 8-month DIY project while also being around for my kids.  About 6 weeks ago, my 9 year old, Sylvia, said something that made me rethink my priorities:

“Mom, I really don’t want to grow up.”

Chagrined, I asked her why.

“Because you never have fun, you have to be responsible, and you can never get away with anything.”

Sylvia’s inquisitive reminder was a tap on the shoulder, reminding me that my work life balance was out of sync.  After painting yet another room, I put the brushes away. The “to do list” could wait.

For those of us who are “recovering perfectionists,” there’s always something we need to get done, and it has to be done just right. If we’re always on the go, we won’t have time to restore our mind and body. Left unchecked, we are vulnerable to fatigue, burn-out and illness. Balance is key, and all it takes is a few simple steps:

1. Schedule time to do NOTHING every day

That’s right, NOTHING. NO reading, NO weeding, NO television, NO sorting through the week’s junk mail. Start with 10 minutes. For those of us so used to “being in our heads,” this is a challenge, but the rewards are well worth it. The monkey mind, after all, is always thinking — but there are ways to quiet it.

Find a comfortable place where you feel safety and a sense of calm. It could be your couch, a tub of warm water with epsom salts, a park, a special room with your own personal altar/mementoes, the beach – even your back yard. Don’t go out of your way to find this place – make it easily accessible regardless of weather and time of day.

Once you find this place, sit comfortably or lay down and close your eyes.  Tense and release muscles in your body to help alleviate hidden tensions. Learn to FEEL your body.  Is it tired, does it need to stretch?  Enjoy the stillness.

If your thoughts wander, gently bring your attention back to your body. Start to scan your body, envisioning a gentle soft light coming down to the crown of your head, slowly moving from point to point to your toes. Imagine that light relaxing and healing each area as the light moves down your body.

Psst… This isn’t really doing nothing – you’re meditating! If you still find yourself thinking too much, start to:

2. Focus on your breath

Incorporate slow, deep breaths into your “slow or ‘no’ time.” After several repetitions, envision the breath going into and out of each limb or joint, healing and purging tension from the body. If you need to harness random thoughts, start counting your breaths like this:

5, I’m breathing in… 5, I’m breathing out.

4, I’m breathing in… 4, I’m breathing out.

The more often you practice mindful breathing, the more you will notice your stress levels diminishing. And here’s the best part – you can do this anywhere!

3. Tackle 1 chore a day

As the saying goes, the inbox is always full, so make a schedule, if necessary, to tackle 1 or 2 small chores per day.  Each chore should average 15-20 minutes, lasting no more than 1/2 hour max. By the time your weekend comes, you will have “banked” hours of free time back into your schedule. You’ll no longer have crazy weekends booked with errands and house-cleaning.

Work done in small increments also lessens stress levels during the week- especially if you know you are only doing that ONE THING for the day.

4. Kick perfection out of your life

A dear friend once said, “If you vacuum today, congratulate yourself that you have a clean floor for today.” Perfection only exists as an unobtainable goal in our minds. We’re never thin enough, rich enough, happy enough — or clean and organized enough.

See what imperfections you can live with, and surrender to them. Learn to accept what is, and be at peace with it. We weren’t born to work ourselves to death. Although we have many responsibilities, we’re given this one life to actually LIVE, learn from, and enjoy it. How can we do that if we’re too busy marking off our “to do” list?

Still not sure what ‘imperfections’ you can handle? Cut other “extras” from your budget and hire a cleaning lady, landscaper, or other contractors to tackle projects that overwhelm you.

5. Schedule something ‘simply fun’

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My ever-evolving flower garden.

Like “doing nothing,” schedule something fun for yourself. Don’t cop -out and consider your regular gym workout or watching a movie while you fold laundry as part of that time. This isn’t time to “multi-task.” This is time to do what soothes your soul.

Take a walk in the park, or take a class you’ve longed to try but “never have the time for.” Truly set aside time for yourself and/or loved ones, and stick to it – EVERY DAY or a few times a week. Begin with 15-30 minutes, and change it up. This is your special time. Before you know it, you will be committed to regular “sacred time slots” for yourself.

If you are social, see if your local community center has recreational classes.  If you’re social, consider MEETUP to find a variety of events and interest groups that may pique your interest.  Game nights, yoga classes, independent movies, gourmet cooking, hiking, choruses and travel groups are some of the many interests you may find on this handy social site.

Other simple ways to start include:

  • Gardening, which can be as easy as filling a few containers with plants. Enjoy how it feels to select plants and feel the earth in your hands. Ask your local community garden, arboretum or botanical garden if they need help weeding one evening a week.  Weeding is meditative, and a great way to connect with nature.
  • Taking a walk or hike each evening by yourself or with a friend. Enjoy the outdoors, and get healthy in the process.
  • If you love art, science, history, etc., be a docent for your local museum. Volunteers are always needed, and you get the pleasure of sharing your passion and knowledge with others.

Back to That Cloud Formation…

A few weeks ago, I took my daily yoga practice, my sadhana, outdoors.  The day was cool, breezy and sunny. As I swooped my arms up to the sky for Urdva Hastasana, I looked up and saw a “butterfly” etched in the clouds above me, just as a hawk screeched and circled above the trees.  These symbols of transformation and freedom created a beautiful, deeply profound, and joyful feeling.  My life was back in balance.

Stop, pause, feel, listen. That’s where we find peace in the midst of chaos.