I’d always wanted to start an innovative school. So I did. And it’s an amazing school.
But after 10 years of blood, sweat and tears, I was so burned out that I couldn’t recognize my life anymore. I felt isolated and alone, totally exhausted, and nothing I tried seemed to make much of a difference. I remember crying quietly to myself at the end of a family vacation because I felt like my work was eating my soul in big bites and the well that I’d gone to over and over for energy and ideas and inspiration felt empty.
I eventually left that job, and that life, and went in search of my peace of mind. Remarkably, I found it.
These days, as an executive coach and personal coach, I share the source of that peace of mind with others. And as I talk to clients, I am reminded of how I used to feel. Out of gas and out of ideas.
It got me to thinking: what would I tell the old me?
Here’s what came pouring out…
Dear Burned Out Jason,
I can see how hard you are working. You’re paddling awfully fast. And you look exhausted.
I know that you are quite certain you’re pointed in the right direction, but it looks like you’re paddling so hard that you haven’t been able to lift your eyes up to see that you’re paddling against the current. Did you even notice the current? It will carry you along and if you want, you can use the paddle here and there to help keep you in the current.
All that paddling would make anyone tired. But you can stop now. Just look for the current. It sounds obvious, but you’re not in charge of the current.
You’ve got a head full of thinking that has weighed down your brow. With a head bowed so low, no wonder you can’t see the current. And you’re hoarding those thoughts as if your life depended on them.
You catalog them, varnish them, venerate them, take pride in them, yoke yourself to them. Your head is so full of your thoughts, so busy with your thoughts, so loud with your thoughts, that there is no peace.
Falling asleep is not something we try to do. It is an un-doing, an allowing. So too is peace of mind. It is not something we will ourselves toward, or work at. So all that work you insist on is bringing you further from your destination.
You pride yourself on your physical fitness, but your mental fitness is in shambles. Physical fitness is all about effort. Mental fitness is all about understanding. Understanding of what? The source of our experience, which is not what it may seem to you now. To you it looks like your experience is coming at you from your circumstances, and so you are exhausting yourself trying to manage and control those circumstances. Relief comes from seeing how our experience comes from within us. If you want relief, look away from your personal thinking to how we are all wired the same way as humans. The more we look towards the universal nature of our experience, the better we feel.
Are you ready to feel some relief? Are you ready to feel joy again?
Dear Ordinary Jason,
Good for you, Mr. Peace of Mind. Glad you found what you’re looking for, but I’m drowning over here. Yes, I’m ready to feel some relief. But all this talk about paddling and sleeping and mental fitness sounds lovely but I have no idea how to get there. What am I supposed to do? Some action steps would be nice.
Only kinda sincerely, and really more irritated than anything else,
Burned Out Jason
Dear Burned Out Jason,
What are you supposed to do? Glad you asked.
It makes perfect sense that a drowning person just wants a lifeline. But I’d like to give you more than a lifeline that might pull you out of the water now only to have you drowning again in the future. I’d like to give you something better than that. I’d like to make you drown-proof.
Here goes. Hang in there with me. It’s so worth it.
Let’s start with literal drowning. In real water.
In river rafting and kayaking, there are hazards known as holes or hydraulics, where the water flowing over rocks or dams or other natural features creates a recycling effect that can keep a person trapped, with very unhappy consequences. A natural response to being trapped in one of these holes would be to fight like hell to get to the surface, where all that lovely oxygen is. And that is precisely the response that all too often results in fatalities or very close calls. An understanding of how these hazards work gives us the information we need to act, somewhat paradoxically, in our own best interest. In the case of river holes or hydraulics, understanding that the water at the bottom of the hazard is getting pushed downstream, would lead us to try to dive deeper (or get into a ball to sink) to find the place where escape is possible, and where the natural flow of the water will kick us out to safety. In those moments of danger and threat, understanding HOW IT WORKS tells us WHAT TO DO.
Here you are asking WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO DO!! And I’m saying that understanding how it works will give you all the guidance you need. In your case, you’re drowning in thinking, not water, so if we look at how our minds work to create our reality then that will give you all the guidance you need to help yourself, and to get out from under all that thinking.
Just like with the river hazard, when it comes to our thinking about life, in the absence of a bigger picture understanding, it can look like fighting, struggling, and effort are the only things that make sense. And, frankly, there’s so much advice out there that’s all about better ways to fight, struggle, and expend effort to get out of the hazards of our thinking. Lipstick on a pig, I say. There’s a way out of the struggle that has nothing to do with effort, nothing to do with managing or changing our thinking or our circumstances. It’s not a better way to cope, because when there’s no longer a problem to be coped with, coping becomes unnecessary, and responding becomes second nature.
I’ve got lots of ways to share this understanding, and I’m wondering if we might look first at our “mental speed.” Are you in?