On my last day of work at one of my 3 jobs just over a month ago, I envisioned my life opening up. As in the monthly “Breathing Space” feature in O Magazine – the vista of a serene existence rested softly in my brain….. I’d finally have time to get to those Rodney Yee yoga DVD’s sitting in the den – I could go out on Friday nights (not that I ever did before working 2nd shift, but that wasn’t the point – at least now I could!), and my aching, tired body would have time to rejuvenate with an occasional massage. Let’s just sit with that lovely sensation for a moment….. I “sat” with it for about 3 days, then my over-achiever kicked in.

Wow, I’d also have time to get through the pile of “non-essential” laundry lurking in the corner of the laundry room, paint the barn roof panels, put in a few more perennial gardens, ride 3 or 4 horses a day, keep my car washed and waxed and my pocket book cleaned out…..

Brandon, the incredibly patient guy who’s doing my website, would get to finish my site because I’d actually send him the text and info I wanted to include. Netflix would discover (upon receiving Inception and The Proposal back from me after lo, these many months)that I hadn’t gone on a round the world cruise or a voyage to Mars. My books would be written and article pitches would fly off to magazines daily.

Now, the important thing to remember here is that I was only working for 32 hours a week at this job….. so needless to say I was in for a bit of an adjustment of expectations.

For the first week or so, I emulated a pinball machine on crack – racing back and forth between yoga and yard work, relaxing with massages and waging war on dust bunnies. I saw some progress on many fronts, but after about 10 days, my “breathing space” feeling began to feel more like “can’t catch my breath”. I was doing things I loved, but being pulled in too many directions to get much satisfaction. The pendulum had swung – right past bliss and back into the far reaches of crazed.

Yoga? Can’t possibly – no time, have to sweep up dog hair/organize my winter clothes/wash the cat nose prints off the window. Get more time in in the garden? No can do – need to drive down to the barn so I can get all the young horses completely trained today. Work on my website? Sorry, the recycling has been piling up and I need to get the winter comforter cleaned and make a run to the grocery store and Tractor Supply and the bank and the gas station and…….

As a wave of PMS like crankiness/exhaustion/depression hit – I took stock and had a few realizations. I’d left my job largely because I was feeling crazed, cranky and crushingly tired. The point of leaving was to make some positive changes to improve those issues, but somehow I’d managed to get sidetracked and think that the secondary and tertiary issues (such as housework) now needed to vie for top spot on my to do list – this obviously wasn’t working out as I had hoped.

To get back toward the blissful state I’d envisioned when driving out of the parking lot on my last day at work, I had to set myself some limits and realistic expectations. Am I going to spend hours a day practicing yoga? Nope, sorry, it’s just not going to happen. Can I do a 20 minute routine a couple of days a week? Why yes, I can – thank you for asking. Is the house going to become immaculate overnight? Well, seeing as I’ve never inhabited an immaculate house (at least not one for which I was responsible), that was a bit of silliness. Could I spend 15 minutes a day reducing clutter and starting to notice when things were untidy sooner rather than later? Definitely in the realm of the do-able. Train half a dozen or so 7 year old green-broke horses to perfection this week? Not! Bring 4 of them up into a closer paddock and work them through a systematic program of groundwork and riding before moving on to the next group? Hey, that might just work!

Things are getting back on track. Instead of feeling that I’ve lowered my expectations, I prefer to view it as having created realistic goals and plans. My mind still wants to jump ahead (and side to side) with other projects/chores/actionable items. I’ve found two things very helpful in managing my pinball-on-crack tendencies. The first is to write stuff down. Sounds overly simple, but by typing notes into my phone as I think of them, I’m not trying to remember and juggle all of the ideas which pop up during a stream of consciousness trip down some rabbit hole. I go through the notes later and either discard them as “seemed like a good idea at the time” or integrate them into the appropriate list (to-do, writing projects, etc.).

The second, and most profoundly affecting, tool in my kit is saying: “right now I’m (fill in the blank)”. I simply bring myself back to the task at hand when my brain takes off to run it’s crazy laps. By focusing (really focusing – as in using all, or at least most, of my senses) on the project at hand, I feel the tension work out of my body. I become present. Zen masters have been suggesting this to us for how many thousands of years? OK, so sometimes I’m a bit of slow study – but I like to see things work for myself, and this does. I’ll be doing something which doesn’t require much engagement (like cleaning a stall) and find that I’m there in body, but the mind is off doing several other things. To bring myself back into being (rather literally), I take a deep breath, exhale and simply say “right now, I’m cleaning this stall”. I then become aware of the feel of the handle of the pitchfork, the dust motes sailing on the sunshine, the rumbling chatter of the river and the constant conversation of the birds. The green smell of the grass and the warm feel of the muscles in my body completing this task. The mundane becomes elevated and I become whole. Cleaning a stall or sweeping the stairs or standing in line can become a spiritual experience, provided we’re really there to notice it.

What are you doing right now? Take a deep breath, exhale and then feel all the aspects of the activity. During the day, begin to cultivate this awareness of experience. Mundane moments disappear, peace enters and life becomes a continual prayer of gratitude.

Live well, my friend.