Slowing down to speed up

I’m a napper. I like naps. Through periods of my life I have terrible insomnia and napping is a way to continue working, raise kids and have some semblance of a life. Right now I’m sleeping pretty well and life has a better balance. I still like naps.

In the past few months I’ve updated on FB that I’m about to take a nap. Or that I need a nap. Or that I just had the best nap-you get the idea. The response I get is just amazing to me. I can’t believe

that people have such strong reactions to the idea that I’m actually resting in the middle of my day.

I’ll admit my first reaction is often to justify. To explain that I teach early morning classes or that I teach a lot or that when I cook it means being on my feet and working long, hard hours. Or that I don’t really have a day off. I have flexibility, but I work on some level every day. But that’s really more about me than them and the point is that we all need to slow down, no matter how busy our lives are.

Slowing down to speed up is one of the best lessons I’ve learned as a yogini, a mom and a business owner. I know it sounds silly to some, but if you can take some time just for yourself you will be a more productive and happy person. When I take time to just breathe or to rejuvenate or to let my mind be quiet I am so much better at being Melissa than when I wake up at 5am and go full blast until I can’t stand up anymore or bedtime comes, whichever is first. When I create space in my life I feel spacious and open and gracious and loving.  And I’m a better mom, wife and teacher for it.

I won’t deny that I went through my prideful Martha Stewart phase, boasting that I only slept four hours a day and could clean the entire house before my family woke up each morning. But you know what? I turned out a lot like what we joke is the Martha Stewart personality. I was focused on perfectionism and I micro-managed a lot. I cared about tasks instead of people. Frankly, I wasn’t a lot of fun. I thought I knew what was best for everyone and  I was cranky. I snapped at my family and didn’t really see all the colors in the rainbow.

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the Melissa who went 15-18 hour straight wasn’t getting much done. At least not as much as she thought she was. And even if she was getting things done most often they were things that didn’t add a lot to her life. She was spinning her wheels. That Melissa would get to the grocery store and forget things or her list. That Melissa felt tired and run down all the time. She got sick A LOT, she drank too much. It was either alcohol or caffeine, but she always dealt in excesses and she never felt very comfortable in her own skin. She always felt she had to measure up-mostly to her own ideals.

The new improved Melissa is older and wiser. I nap. I hear my friends say they don’t have time to nap. I hear people say they don’t have time to take yoga class or practice more often or exercise or have tea with friends. I hear people on a daily basis say they don’t have time to do the things they would really enjoy. And I find that very sad.

The most productive, happy people I know and those that I don’t know, but are people  I admire, read or follow take time out. They nap. They practice yoga, they golf or read for fun, they goof off. And why? Because it’s the number one, most effective way to be successful. I don’t know anything more important in life than to feel successful. We all measure it differently, but we all need it.

I know that when I take that time out to practice quietly-not just teach a lot, or nap or take a long walk just because it’s beautiful out or have a long chat with a friend over tea-I’m refreshed and better at everything I do. After napping I can clean the kitchen in 10 minutes instead of 20. I answer an email in 5 minutes instead of 30 and a trip to the grocery store can take 15 minutes instead of 45. If you add that up, that’s a lot of time that you’ve saved to do something you really like.

Yesterday I made a 30 minute trip where I started a load of laundry, picked up a few groceries, got gas and then partially dried the laundry before arriving home. That includes driving time. I must admit I impressed even myself. After that I  dropped off the laundry for Lucy to hang dry, picked up my husband, dropped him off at the bookstore and taught two classes. That might have been my whole day instead of a total of 3 hours.

I was able to do it because I’d just woken up from a nap and I was rejuvenated, energized and focused. I taught well last night because I was centered and quiet. I focused on my students rather than on myself and was able to remember everything I wanted to include in the class-without notes. I was clear and concise. I was a more successful business woman, teacher and yogi because of my nap.

The other part of slowing down to speed up is to cull the clutter. Our lives are filled with clutter. We busy ourselves just to be busy.  There’s a difference between external busyness and internal busyness. We all have busy periods-days, weeks or even months when we have to just put our heads down and tackle a big project. Even then, though, there is time for the basics.

I once had a friend who I used to bond with over being a hectic small business owner. I called in the middle of the day to check in with him. I had just finished the lunch rush at my restaurant and wanted to offer him something nourishing. . It was after 1, but I knew he’d had a busy day and rightly thought that he hadn’t eatten yet. “I don’t have time to eat,” he responded. “There is always time to eat,” I protested and he refused. Refused me bringing him something, refused running to the fast food chain across the street, refused to eat at all.  Whenever your life is too busy with the basics of life you’re spinning your wheels. There is always time for food, sleep and a moment to pee. If there’s not-that’s internal busyness.

Again, I too fell into this trap. But these days I decide who runs the show. I’ve let go of the shoulds and have-tos.  Most of what I thought was really important was only so when I tried to cram my life full of things that really didn’t add much. And perhaps that’s the rub. Try to decide what really adds value to your life. If you wait to return an email until you’ve snuggled with your kid will the world end? If you take 20 minutes to eat lunch will you really lose a customer? It’s all about perspective and I have to remind myself of that daily.

A few years ago we tried to have a really jam-packed fun-filled Christmas. We’d rush to a party or fundraiser to smile at people we didn’t really know and eat fattening, flat-tasting food that we didn’t enjoy and pulling out of the parking lot someone would say listlessly, “Well, that was fun.” And then we’d hurry home to change for the next event or off to bed so we could repeat the entire busyness again the next day.

And then we all got sick. And instead of hitting every party we were invited to, racing around from Tree Festival to Gingerbread Festival to the lighting of about 12 trees we slept. We ate soup and read and cozied up together. We ate simply and spent lots of time in our own rooms by ourselves. When we happened to be awake at the same time we were quiet. We drew and created holiday decorations, we watched the holiday classics that our family enjoys. We didn’t finish most of our holiday shopping and on Christmas day we stir-fried the veggies we had and made a pot of rice.

You can already guess the ending right? To this day my 13 year-old says that was the best Christmas ever. We had to wake her up at 10am to open her presents and nudge her to open each next one, but you know what? She remembers them all. She opened them and looked at them and took her time appreciating them. She played with each one because we weren’t rushing off to anyone’s house for Christmas dinner or to the next event. We spent much of our Christmas break together that year and since the adults couldn’t go to work it was extra special for the kids. The gift of time turned out to be our biggest gift ever.

So sappy as that all was it was a huge learning lesson for us. I only get this one life. If I spend the next 30 years running from one thing to the next how am I going to look back at my life?  I want to be in my life and truly live it. Next week when I try to remember Monday morning I want to fully be able to come back to this moment and remember who I am at this time as well as remember the sweetness of my son at four racing in from preschool to give me a cold, sticky kiss hello.

From this base of mindfulness and being present I get memories, choices and the ability to grow and change. If I make a bad choice today, I get to correct it or make a different one tomorrow. But that’s only because I’m present enough in my life to evaluate right now. When I’m tired, busy and spinning it may take weeks, months or even years to evaluate and correct my choices.

So laugh as you will, feel superior, incredulous or amused. I choose to nap, rest, have fun and relax. And in fact, I have just enough time to nap before I pick up my daughter and teach a class this afternoon. Night.

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