Many of my students have taken the practices I teach into their lives with positive results. Yet they, like most of us, still find themselves overwhelmed time and time again. It's a bit like the story of Sisyphus, the Greek legend of the man who was condemned to push a boulder up to the top of a mountain only to have it roll down to the bottom and have to push it up once again for all eternity. How can Feng Shui help?
An old Zen story, but one which nevertheless illustrates our modern mind set, offers us a way to begin to approach our problem. A long time ago a very important man, a man who was used to commanding obedience from his underlings, went to visit a Zen Master. "I have come today to ask you to teach me about Zen. Open my mind." The Zen Master smiled and started the tea ceremony. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and poured the tea. It rose to the rim and began to spill all over the table and finally onto the robes of the wealthy man. "Enough, you are spilling the tea all over! Can't you see that the cup is full?"The master smiled at his guest. "You are like this teacup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind."
What those of us who feel chronically overwhelmed are seeking is, while perhaps not the totally empty mind, at least one with enough room to handle our day to day activities.
Let us begin with the end in mind. The goal of Feng Shui is to create harmony and balance. Consider the whole and then determine what needs to be adjusted to bring the out-of-control system into balance.
My first suggestion is to take the better part of an hour (or more) and list everything that's happening in one's life. I suggest an extended time since many facets of our overwhelm lie not on the surface, but rather lie buried, often under that famous river De-Nile. Carry a notepad with you during the day, and place it on your nightstand at the end of the day as well. Record those items which pop up as last thoughts before you fall asleep. Keep this pad with you even if you have a notetaker, or an iPhone - pencil and paper are quicker.
You will find it very interesting to see just how many oceans of stuff
crowd your life. Being able to see it in a list may not only startle you, but also pose the question "How did I ever get this much stuff on my plate?" Not to worry - you are not alone! Remember 'endemic' (a disease or condition regularly found among particular people or in a certain area.)
Once you have your list completed (and it may take up to a week - do not rush through this all important step), you will be able to look through it and realize that each item will fall into one of three categories: very time dependent, recurring, and those ideas or projects which need to incubate or are still developing.
You should now begin to sense some space inside - if you don't it means there is yet another wave full of things to be jotted down. Don't get discouraged.
Being able to physically see all the items on your life's menu removes a great deal of the anxiety you have been feeling. You now know the beast, and you are capable of gaining control over it, if
you will begin and keep practicing a system.
Start by buying yourself a small index card box. You will be creating divisions within the box to organize all the items from your notepad.
One time delimited item per index card. That is one division in the card box you bought.
This first division is comprised of recurring items (bills, trash day, car maintenance). NO TO Dos are allowed - only the weekly, monthly, whatever recurring items in your life. From the cards, put each item into your preferred planner (phone, calendar, whatever). A neat trick here is to set a prep warning a few days in advance (download the charge accounts 3rd Tuesday.)
Schedule recurring items out as far as your calendar will allow. Now you can stop thinking about them
- they will remind you when the time is right - and you've just taken about 25 pounds of mental clutter off yourself.
The next section holds ongoing projects and items with farther out deadlines. Set aside some quiet time when you are not feeling quite so pressured. Go through these cards one by one and develop a timeline for accomplishing the indicated item: the project for client X needs to be done by the middle of next week. OK, what can you do now, what part of it can you accomplish in the next couple of days? Divide the project up into bite size chunks and give each bit a "to be accomplished by" date. Do the same with the rest of the cards in this category.
This is where the 'to-dos' tend to accumulate. They are a major cause of overwhelm. Like weeds in the spring garden (which comes up first, the weeds or the flowers?) you need to thin these out. "Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of the nonessentials."
Look at the list to to-dos. It is endless. And, no matter how many you accomplish, more are added everyday. What are we doing? We are Playing Trivial Pursuit.
Cut your list in half. The world will not end. Then a week later, cut it in half again.
Overwhelm comes from trying to squeeze 25 hours into a 12 hour day. Trying to complete at least 45 things in one day. This is what you have been doing which has caused the blockages to your flow, your balance, your harmony.
As you work each segment, you'll need to be alert for behaviors which have defeated your organizational attempts in the past... things like "Oh,Dan wants me to follow this link.....there's a book that might be of help?.....2 items on Facebook that I want to....
) Resolve to focus on doing the one task before you.
All the distractions with their sticky little fingers must be quietly pushed out the door of your awareness for another time. Afraid you will forget them? Remember your little pad? Write them down on the pad, give it the task of remembering them, and return to your project.
Once you complete the segment you have outlined on the index card, check it off. Congratulate yourself. Go have a cup of tea or a quick walk around the block. Be sure you wash your mind free so that when you take up the next topic, you will be clear and ready. Overwhelm has begun to abate. You will have a greater sense of peace and harmony. You have begun to unclutter your mind.
You will be delighted at the greater sense of freedom that is developing. There's
more to help move you from overwhelm to the happy, satisfied, individual you want to be. But rather than overwhelm
you with more, I'll ask you to pick up Part 2 in the next issue.
This is quite an assignment, and I hope you will take it
seriously. If you procrastinate, call a good friend and ask them to
check in with you on a daily basis to be sure you keep going with
your little book.
One last tip: when you do feel overwhelm, stop what you're doing, pull off the road, whatever. And breathe. Just breathe. In, then out. In then out. Within five minutes you will be ready to start again.