“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”– Walt Whitman
Do you start each day “hoping” to catch up, take charge, feel less stressed, appear less distracted, act more focused, etc.? Do you have the space to breathe, pause and reflect? Are you always simply waiting for the next hour, day or week off to discover the space (? time) torejuvenate yourself. The sad little secret is that in a busy, demanding, overly competitive world, finding true mental space rarely happens organically. When everyone else is living like you and you are rewarded for demolishing yourself on the job, it becomes the norm. It may take a crisis or a breakdown to get you to pay attention.
Take the story of Janice Maturano, vice president and deputy general counsel of General Mills. After being part of an18 month grueling merger between General Mills and the Pillsbury Company, and the loss of both her parents within six months of each other, she found herself unable to bounce back and return to her previous high-pressure pace. All her reserves of energy and strength had been completely depleted. She was at zero. A physician friend suggested a spa for a week, which initially sounded appealing. Fortuitously, at the same time she saw a mindfulness retreat for executives with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic. After attending that initial retreat, she embarked on a journey of mindfulness, eventually founding the Institute for Mindful Leadership. She describes her experiences and workshops in her appropriately named bestselling book, Finding the Space to Lead.
The time for creating space is NOW, before crisis, with all its attendant chaos and destruction, forces change. You may be promising yourself that you will go away and find a wilderness or quiet beach where you can relax and decompress. A place to breathe freely. A peaceful place can be of tremendous value and be restorative, but oftentimes we take our crowded minds with us. A place does not always give us the mental space we are seeking.
It takes intentionality, commitment, courage and discipline to open the door to a new spaciousness of mind and interrupt the weeks, months and even years of mental chatter and clutter. Almost without exception I recommend some form of mindfulness practice to my clients, whatever form that takes-a breathing exercise, walking, open awareness, yoga, etc. Gently drawing ourselves away from ruminating about the past or worrying about the future opens the mind to greater clarity, calmness, compassion, and creativity. A space where we can come into the present and find a meaningful way forward. This quote beautifully expresses this thought:
“Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”– often attributed to Viktor Frankl