Digital sabbaticals do not come with automatic, built-in “A-ha!” moments.
I’ll confess that I wanted the “A-ha!” about managing workloads–some kind of blinding insight on how to do things differently that would mean I could juggle everything on my plate, without disappointing anyone (including myself).
I spent the first two weeks of my digital break obsessively thinking about work, and how to “handle” it upon my return. How to handle email and social media checking and responses, how to handle launching products, how to handle other people’s requests for help with promotion, and balance those requests with my desire to support everyone while simultaneously not wanting to turn YCL into the “promote everyone’s stuff” website.
I wrote down plans for 2012, and action steps to support those plans. Then I fretted about how even after two weeks, I didn’t feel rested or rejuvenated when I thought about coming back from the break and starting that work.
Somewhere around the two week mark, something shifted. I’d been meditating and taking vitamins and eating salads again and reading books and praying and connecting with friends and family, and I was feeling pretty good.
And I thought, “It’s more important to me to keep this feeling than it is to build my business.”
It’s not that building my practice isn’t important–it’s just that the mental switch flipped where I saw quite clearly that I was more important.
I was declaring sovereignty over my life.
What followed was this: my shoulders dropped, and I was able to spend the final two weeks of my break feeling truly rejuvenated.
Waffling = Suffering
When we spend a lot of time going back and forth, back and forth, wanting to do this, but also wanting to do that, adding in a lot of “But what about…?” phrases into conversations, waffling endlessly…we suffer.
I have no more or less work by declaring sovereignty; I’m just committed clearly to the priority of making sure that I’m okay before I work, whereas before I was trying to make sure that both myself and my business were okay, then not finding enough hours in the day to do that, and choosing my business out of fear, while beating myself up for not choosing myself.
That’s full transparency, yes?
But here’s another cool thing: I remembered the power of simply declaring the next step.
There were other decisions in my life that I’d been waffling on, big ones. “Do I want to do this? Well, yes, but what about….?” — and on and on.
Sometimes life just asks for some step, in some kind of direction. It doesn’t work to try and to sort out all of the feelings about the decisions before taking action.
It’s fine to spend some time in a space of “waffling” as you consider all options. That said, I realized that I had been in a space of waffling for too long over some decisions in my life. I needed to either be all the way in, or all the way out; the process of debating which direction to take had taken up far more energy than it would take to simply follow a particular path.
We can declare sovereignty over our lives when we simply say: Look, I don’t have it all figured out, but with the knowledge and tools and resources that I have right now, this seems like the next right step. I’m taking it.
And what happens after that?
For me, a space opened up where I was suddenly excited about all that was before me with that path, all the opportunities that it would offer me. I was aware of the downsides with that choice, but clear that they would probably not be very important to me in the long term–and willing to risk it.
This is how it can be to declare sovereignty, to decide to look directly and head-on at the places in life where suffering is happening, and simply decide that you’ll accept the inevitability of uncertainty as you step forward–because what else is there?
This is part of what it means to revolutionize your life, from the inside, out–to look at suffering and decide in a very conscious way not to stay there, anymore.
What’s the biggest cause of suffering, and how might you boldly and courageously look at it directly, without your Story about what it all means, and then allow the next right action to arise?
This is fully alive: the New York Times project called “The Lives They Loved,” a collection of photographs of people who had died in 2011. Readers submitted a photo of the person and a few lines about who they were. Here are the sorts of things that they wrote:
“He left a legacy larger than life itself, and in myriad small ways: his delicious recipes from owning a deli on Columbus Circle, his Hebrew calligraphy and artwork, his love for details and doing things just right. He had great passion for his community, whether in leading services at synagogue or in raising funds for ambulances to give to Israel.”
“ My Dad holding his 1st great-grandson 2 days before he died. It was the one time they met.”
“My mom died earlier this year after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Both little girls are so innocent. If they only knew what life held ahead for them.”
“A flashing, broken smile from our crazy, brilliant Friend of Tennessee atop of her favorite place on earth, Gregory Bald in the Smoky Mountains–quoting Shelley and Beowulf, no doubt, the entire time–where her spirit now infinitely soars and laughs.”
Person after person. Loved. Cherished. Fallible and human–and loved and cherished, anyway. People who wrote books, learned languages, traveled the world, raised children, perfected family recipes, had a unique laugh, a toothy grin, drank too much, gave back to their communities, immigrated to new countries, spent most of their short lives in hospitals, danced.
What ends it all? Random acts of violence. Breast cancer. Rare cancers. Car accidents. Suicide. Overdose. The simplicity of going to sleep and not waking up.
I read about it and I think: “Life can turn on a fucking dime. There is no certainty. This is one big human race, and we’re all just so beautifully awkward and fumbling. What in the world are any of us afraid of? Why aren’t we all grabbing our lives by the fistful? What the hell are we all waiting for?”
It makes me weep.
I weep with gratitude for my living, breathing life. For the air in my lungs. For all of the pictures that have been taken of me in which I smiled into a camera, not knowing what would be ahead. Not worrying about it. Not anticipating the pain of life. Weeping for all of my second chances, and third chances, and tenth chances.
Weeping for waking up to the truth–that this is all finite.
It makes me weep in sorrow for too many days spent in front of a computer screen, eating soup from a can in fewer than ten minutes, snapping at the people I love, thinking anything is less important than…
sunsets, speaking Italian, beautiful food, making every day a celebration, the smell of the air as the seasons change, helping someone without expectations, dropping more dollars in the donation baskets, and having sacred orgasms.
When I die, my hope is not that people will say that I curated this website; that I was a prolific writer; that I made X amount of money per year or that I was successful at my business.
My only hope is that you all will say that I savored my life, that I relished in details, that my mind was active and curious, that I loved ferociously, that I was committed to the evolution of my soul. Most importantly, that everyone around me would know that I wanted all of this not just for myself, but for all of you.
Take time to really go through all of these photos. None of it hit me until the 20th or 30th one. All these people. All these lives.
Any one of them could be you, or me.
What would you change about your life right now, if you knew that in 2012, someone who loves you would be submitting your photo?
Sometimes I’m asked how I write–especially how I can generate so much content. I don’t know that I have a cohesive, simple answer to that question, but last week I was inspired by reading an interview between Susannah Conway and Danielle LaPorte–like Susannah, I have a curious fascination with the processes of other writers.
Here are a few things that I know to be true for me.
Writing is a Relationship
- I have a relationship with my writing. I suppose you could invoke the idea of courting The Muse. Ten years ago, the relationship was one of control. I would say, “I have X number of words to write today, because it’s what I must do to call myself a worthy human being who has a regular writing practice.” And my writing would bitch and moan back at me, and it was a very white-knuckling, dysfunctional relationship.
- I exerted that control because I wanted to be hot-shit–I had this thing about wanting to be a young prodigy in the writing world. Somewhere around the age of thirty, when I realized that was not to be, I just surrendered. I stopped trying to write something every day. Instead, I came to the page/keyboard when I was inspired. My Muse calls the shots these days, which is fine, because she knows more than I do. Sometimes my Muse says, “Nope, today is not the day for you to try to work on that piece,” and other days my Muse says, “Get your ass into a chair and sit down to write.”
- If I ignore the urge to write when I really want to write, I am a fussy, temperamental mess.
- There is seriously nothing else in my life that I get that way about–no artistic endeavour, no person I have to see on a regular basis…not even sex.
- I could have fifty cents in my bank account and be happy if I’m writing and it’s really flowing. When it’s not flowing–always because I’m forcing it–I’m on edge.
- I know that I’m in the flow when I’ve been writing for hours and my stomach is groaning because I’m so hungry–and yet I’d rather write than eat.
Tools & Technique
- For years, I wanted to have a desktop computer for work, and a laptop that was only for writing. I resisted, because there was all of this, “living in the first world with all this excess, when other people don’t even have food” guilt. Finally, I bought the laptop. No regrets.
- There is no software on my writing laptop, aside from word-processing software and whatever basic install software came pre-loaded. Zero distractions.
- I need to write in different locations. I really like to spread out. I have a massive coffee table in my office that is usually covered with whatever book I’m reading in the moment, my laptop, and writing notes.
- I make a lot of notes, on yellow post-its and in black, hardcover Moleskine notebooks.
- I generally have at least three inspirational books with me when I write–I like to open pages at random and see what calls to me. Pema Chodron, Joseph Campbell, Byron Katie, and Eckhart Tolle are all favorites.
- Sometimes I’ll read a page from one of these books, and just one line will hook me, and so I’ll start writing a response to that one line.
When Editing, Risk Ruthlessness to Cut to Truth
- I don’t sweat cutting anything that doesn’t work–I’m ruthless. Sometimes I’ll copy and paste the cut paragraph into a new document and keep it around; maybe it will end up being something I open up later and turn into a full-fledged piece.
- Because I’ve learned the hard way–I save early, save often.
- Often, when I start a piece, I don’t reign myself in–I just GO. Maybe I’ll start talking about compassion and then re-read the piece an hour later and realize that I’ve touched on three different angles. When I realize that I’m talking about three different spins within one subject, I check word-count and if the piece is long, I’ll see what I can do to craft that one piece into three different pieces.
- I try to keep word count under 1,000, which I find a challenge. I love to read, so I resist the fact that most consumers/people want pieces to be short and snappy.
- When I edit, I edit first for ideas and focus, then for word count and sentence-level issues. I try to rephrase as many sentence as possible from a first-person to a second-person focus, i.e., from “I” to “you/we.” The writing is more connected to the reader, that way.
- I have the hardest time with deadlines for other websites. I try to start working on those early, weeks in advance of the deadline. I’ll riff on something a bit and then leave it alone until a week before the deadline, and then check it out again. I pad my time a lot because I know that I need that time to go back and forth.
You Can’t Control Everything
- I love writing in libraries, because there’s a rule that everyone has to be quiet. I get irritated when I’m writing and something pulls me out of that flow. When my neighbor isn’t home, his dog will bark every ten minutes at any sound it hears, for hours. He knows that his dog does this, but he doesn’t do anything about it. It is really hard for me not to hate my neighbor, sometimes.
- I confess that I once yelled out my window at that dog–in a very non-compassionate, not-my-life-vision, not nice, not patient way– “Shut the fuck up!”
- The dog was quiet for ten minutes, and then resumed its barking.
- My ideal writing day would be getting up around 7am, stretching and meditating, having breakfast, showering, grabbing a latte from Peet’s, and then sitting down to write around 9am while taking sips of the latte as I go.
- My favorite days are those when I have zero appointments. I like disappearing into the vortex where there’s no reason whatsoever to even look at the clock and track time.
- While this is my ideal, I also know how to rock getting in an hour or two of writing. I don’t want to make anything “too precious” around writing. That’s not healthy. I want to have kids in a few years, and I definitely know that things will change then.
Criticism & Unspeakable Love
- I know that it’s not the right time for a piece to be published if, as I’m writing, I’m worrying about offending someone. Then I know that I don’t energetically stand behind the piece. I have to stand behind it before anyone else can.
- I do get critical responses to what I write. Not often, but sometimes. While I’m open to the feedback and pause to consider it, it’s usually clear that the person is being reactionary rather than honestly seeing that the piece I wrote was just–a piece. They take things personally or make up a Story about who I am, rather than seeing that single written work as one little star that expresses a pocket of who I am in a moment, not the entire constellation of who I am on a continuum. I figure I can’t really “convince” someone to “like” me if they’re choosing such a narrow point of view.
- I confess it amuses me when the email is seething with hostility and criticism and then ends with, “I wish you the best in your work” or something like that. It’s such a bullshit line–they know it, I know it–delivered so that they can feel better about themselves after dumping on someone else. Humans are funny that way.
- How do I respond to those emails? I hit the delete key. Life’s too short.
- Well, okay–full transparency–sometimes I feel a bit sad before hitting the delete key, not because I believe the words in the email, but because someone thought that they should take time out of their life to be unkind.
- Emails where someone shares that what I’ve written has them thinking in a different way, opened up an inch of freedom in their life, or helped them in some way–I save them in a special folder. I genuinely appreciate them.
- Confession: I often feel awkward knowing what to write back, and wish there were some way where I could magically transfer my high-vibration gratitude that I feel at the time of reading their email, over to them, so that instead of my awkward email responses, they would feel how I feel about their gesture. There are times when words are far too limiting to express anything, and thanking a reader for appreciating what I’ve written is one of those times.