I was giving a workshop one day for a group of high-powered women in the health-care profession. These physicians, nurses, therapists, and administrators were some of the busiest women on the planet, many with pressing life-and-death responsibilities. It was the third day of a conference on women’s health, and for once we were focused on our own health. The conversation had turned to how we can take care of ourselves when we’re so busy caring for other people, both on the job and at home.
Intellectually, we were all on the same page. Almost every woman understands the airplane metaphor of needing to put on our own oxygen mask first before helping the ones who might be dependent on your care. But understanding the metaphor emotionally—feeling it at the gut level where wisdom lives—is another experience altogether.
I asked the group to close their eyes and just pay attention to the feeling of busyness, rather than to their stories about it. You might want to try the exercise we did yourself (which follows in the next paragraph), or better yet, with a friend or two. Pause at each break so that you can experience your responses mindfully. There’s no right or wrong experience. A gentle, honest, open awareness of your feelings is the only goal.
Think of a typical busy day . . . What time is it? . . . What are you doing? . . . Are you at work? . . . At home? . . . Who’s there? . . . What are you saying to yourself? . . . Now let go of all the stories in your mind . . . tune in to your body . . . what do you feel? . . . Where do you feel it? . . . Are you excited or energized? . . . Are there butterflies in your stomach? . . . Is there tightness in your chest? . . . Are you at peace? . . . Are you tense? . . . Follow the sensations wherever they lead you. Don’t try to make them go away or to change them . . . . Just observe what you’re feeling without any judgment about whether it’s good or bad . . . . The only thing that matters is your willingness to be aware and stay present to your feeling.
After we’d completed the exercise, the women sat together in groups of three and shared their experience. The facades of power—doctors versus nurses, surgeons versus family-practice physicians, administrators versus support staff, evaporated like the morning dew. There were only women telling the truth about their lives, coming into the present moment and listening for what busyness felt like inside.
The most common feelings that busyness evoked were anxiety, fear, sadness, grief, loneliness, and anger. There were a lot of tears, hugs, and murmured sounds of comfort and understanding as women gave voice to their feelings. You can talk about busyness and stay in your head, or you can move into your heart and feel the emotional reality of busyness in your body. When you’re willing to do that, a space opens for emotions to do their work of informing, energizing, and motivating you to live your life in alignment with what’s most important to you as a compassionate, caring human being.
The sad irony of this exercise was that several women realized that they kept even busier than they had to because the distraction of constant doing kept unpleasant emotions from coming up. When your life gets to the point where you’d rather vacuum than feel the emptiness of loneliness inside, it’s time to deepen the connection to your inner wisdom. That takes courage. There may be healing work to do or difficult choices to make. Listening to yourself—making room for your heart’s voice to be heard—and staying present to what’s true with deep tenderness is an essential skill for inner peace.
Ten minutes of meditative stillness in the morning, a little time each day with a journal, or a 20-minute silent walk are all occasions for listening. If you take even a small step toward the stillness of Being, the emotional energy you find there can begin its work as a peacemaker and emissary of wisdom.
Reprinted with permission from HealYourLife.com Copyright © 2011 (Hay House).
Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., is one of the leading experts on stress, spirituality, and the mind/body connection. She has a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard Medical School and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Visit: www.JoanBorysenko.com.