Cat From The Mat

The Calm Before The Play

I love being productive.  I feel satisfied when checking things off of my To Do list.  But I wonder.  Do I wear my exhausting productivity as a badge of honor? Am I keeping myself distracted so that I don't have the time or space to address bigger issues?  Might busyness equate with feeling important?


Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection addresses how we interpret exhaustion as a sign that we are doing well, while putting naps on the back-burner. Brené says, "If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth."  She has collected data over years of research proving that play, calm, and stillness are key ingredients of a meaningful life, as illustrated below.

"Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation,"  writes Brené.  Play is purposeless, on purpose.  Through play, we can find joy and satisfaction in any work we do.  Ironically, we become even more productive.

Brené defines Calm as "creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity."  Calmness requires recognizing when we are being triggered, taking a moment to pause, then choosing how to respond.  Breathing is the best place to start this process.

"Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing.  It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question," explains Brené.  Meditation is also this practice of holding a space of judgment-free presence.

In a recent lecture I attended, holistic doctor Deepak Chopra prescribed sleep, meditation, and yoga as a solid recipe for health.  These endeavors are highly effective.  A little bit can go a long way.  He pointed out that as a culture, we drink stimulants in the morning to wake up then pop a pill at night to fall asleep.  No wonder we are deprived of well-being.

I've been practicing yoga for over twenty years.  Compared to recently deceased grandfather of yoga BKS Iyengar (1918-2014), I am a newbie on the path.  My initial access to yoga was through the physicality of asana.  It not only kicked my butt and reconnected my heart-mind-body; it opened up my eyes to a world of awareness.  My consistent and cumulative years of practice have taught me that in order to be more conscious, I need to slow down, do less, and be more.  Easier said than done.

As far as my mileage on the meditation cushion, I am not as well-seasoned.  My human-doership far excels that of my human beingship.  But when I do find time to sit, I find spacious solace.  Besides being thoroughly entertained by my relentless thoughts, nothing really happens during meditation.  What matters is that which occurs from having meditated.  I notice that I don't speed through life as much.  It's like a really good savasana for the mind.  How I do love my siestas!

Brené Brown encourages us to create a list of practical things that make our lives work, called the "ingredients for joy and meaning" list.  The items might include relaxation, exercise, healthy food, time off, quality visits with family/friends, cooking, dancing, singing, or walking the dog without your cell phone.  Then compare it with your usual To Do list.  You might be surprised in how little downtime you schedule in a day, how much sleep-debt you have accrued, or maybe how disparate your doing and being have become.  


Carve out more time to rest, to play, to practice yoga/meditation, or to just breathe mindfully as you enjoy moments of dynamic stillness.  Shift the intention of your To Do List from completing future tasks to qualifying your daily choices in the here and now. To do or not to do…that is seldom the question.


Cat From The Mat

September 2014