I have a ton of stuff going on at the same time and I know you do, too. One thing up front – in times when your concern is not about thriving but about not collapsing, there is only one thing to be done: setting radical priorities and putting first things first.
This being said, I want to share with you what helps me find peace in less existential yet stressful moments. I’ve never been someone who passionately focuses on just one goal and hammers on that spot without looking up until I’m done.
Liz Gilbert once beautifully made the distinction between that ‘jackhammer’ kind of person and the very different approach of ‘hummingbird’ people. The latter “move from tree to tree, from flower to flower (…) trying this, trying that.” I would die a slow and ugly death if I was forced to focus on one spot only, not able to do my hummingbird thing. I need the interplay of a whole variety of projects, interests and ideas at the same time to feel alive.
The downside of a hummingbird life: super slow progress in each area and moments of total panic about not getting all the things I’m juggling with done fast enough, good enough and big enough, while the whole rest of the world consists of experts, specialists, masters and rock stars who have it all completely figured out before I even downloaded lesson one of my “origami with rice paper” class.
There is one thing though that has become an instant remedy for me to soothe my overwhelmed mind in these not fast/good/big enough moments, that brings me back into balance – and it might help you, too. Telling you straight away: I’m picturing a spiral: 🌀 Yep. I take a deep breath, cease thinking in linear progress and straight timelines that go from A to B and start thinking round.
Life really isn’t a straight line, ever.
Circles have already provided me much needed wisdom about unwanted returns to places, things and people; and each time I’m panicking about progress that has yet to be made, the image of a circular structure reminds me that my life really isn’t a straight line, ever. I’m simply circling around in my spiral, passing through the whole palette of things I’m working on and dealing with and growing – one circle at a time, adding a little thing here, trying a thing there, touching up something here, trashing something there and, since I’m a hummingbird, eventually cross-pollinating two supposedly unrelated areas on the way.
The image of moving in circles instead of going straight from A to B makes me less frustrated about the fast, linear progress I haven’t made in specific projects, and more appreciative of the tiny progress I make every day in many areas – because the spiral pictures the whole, perfectly balanced interplay of all the things I do.
Isn’t that how life works anyways? We live and grow in circles. Trees do. Our bodies do. Our relationships do. Time does: Circular time has been fundamental in many cultures – just not in ours. Just think about it: Is the kid you once were really somewhere behind you, or is the kid you once were actually within you? Lesson one of my origami class isn’t past me when I’m at lesson 75. It’s in the very center of lesson 75.
We live and grow in circles.
The recipe for stress is being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’, says Eckhart Tolle so wisely. In a spiral, here and there are kind of the same place. Every point is an integral part of the whole. Whether we walk our spiral from the inside out into expansion or from the outside in into depth: if we allow ourselves to let go of linear progress, every step of the way is growth, achievement, satisfaction – even the empty ones and the in-betweens, the moments of rest. Every new cycle integrates and builds on what has been lived. The “final” product? Really just one piece of many and not more important than the rest. Our heart is with the process itself, with our life itself.
Next time you feel stressed because you have too much going on, try this: Breathe and shake the straightness off. Honor each field that matters to you by gifting it time to mature. Enjoy every unfinished piece, every moment, every small step in the circle you’re walking right now and know that the next one is already forming beyond it. Zoom out as far as you can and see how amazingly far you’ve actually come.
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Image: Matt Bluejay // Unsplash