I woke up recently.
Not as in, the alarm went off and I got out of bed. I mean I got one of those wake-up calls that prompted me to take a massive step back and re-assess a few things.
As a mindfulness teacher, it's my job to support others in improving their wellbeing, often through discovering a slower pace of life. So imagine my shock when I realised just how far I'd got sucked into the doing frenzy that our culture seems addicted to.
A 'discussion' with my husband (let's call it that and say no more) helped me see that I was just trying to do way too much. Granted, it was all stuff that I wanted to do. But it didn't all fit very well with family life. And I'll be honest, it was making my head spin a bit.
So I took a pause. Thankfully, I had been disciplined enough to schedule some time off work - proper downtime, without even checking emails.
This pause helped me get some clarity.
I asked myself what was most important to me. I checked out how I was neglecting or ignoring those things.
I saw that well-meaning advice from others had tilted me towards some professional projects that weren't really in line with what I'm all about.
I realised - and this was the big one - that alot of it had been in the service of making money. Which has never been what motivates me. Contributing by supporting others is what matters most to me. Sure, I need to make a living. But I don't actually need more than that.
I also became aware that the busier I got, the more money I was spending on things I didn't really need. You know - eating in a restaurant rather than taking a packed lunch, buying treats for my son to keep him occupied while I 'got stuff done'. I would buy things without even stopping to consider the cost (like expensive face creams), although with a little thought I could buy a much cheaper alternative. I saw how often I was justifying unnecessary expense with the reasoning 'I'm too busy'.
And so an alternative presented itself. What if I aimed for saving more money, so I could earn less? That would free up some of my time, and take some of the 'busyness' pressure off. I worked out I could actually save alot of the money I was trying to earn. Why would I make myself stressed doing extra work, when I could get the same net result by not doing things? I felt like I'd had it all backwards!
When I sat down to revise my work plans, I was able to prioritise just two areas that matter the most to me. Anything that didn't fit in with those went in the bin.
It felt good. I felt like I had so much more breathing space. And I felt much more available to those I care about, and more present in my life. I could appreciate all those small pleasures, like connecting with people, and enjoying the delights of spring, rather than being stuck in constant 'planning/getting there' mode.
A few days later, on a trip into the town centre, my resolve to spend less was tested. With my new-found awareness, I realised I'd easily have spent about £40 on that trip if I'd been on stressed autopilot - on lunch, and a new bag and some books I 'needed'. I'd got hooked on mindless spending. But this time I stayed mindful of what mattered. I remembered that I'd rather choose simpler living and the contentment that comes with that.
Of course, the temptation to slide back into the cult of Busy is still there. But I trust my meditation practice to keep me grounded in my recent choices, and committed to more mindful living.
If you're wondering how you could live a little more simply, here are a few ways you could get started.
1. Check Your Values
Consider what really matters to you, what's most important. What areas of your life do you want to put your energy into? Perhaps family, friends, meaningful work. And what personal values do you bring to those areas? For some it might be connection, adventure or integrity. For me it's gentleness, creativity and community.
2. What's Your Bottom Line?
OK, so I'm self-employed and therefore I do have some control over which work projects I take on. But years ago, I had a similar awakening and I walked out of a high-paid profession and into a much lower-paid admin job. I made this decision because it enabled me to feel calm and well, instead of stressed and tearful. My husband and I worked out how much we really needed to live on - and it was less than I'd thought. We made choices that meant a lower income was viable. For example, we haven't had a foreign holiday in about six years. But the thing is, we now don't feel so desperate for a holiday so we can escape our frantic lives (or in my husband's case, my incessant ranting about my job). So it felt like a positive choice, not a sacrifice. I also buy alot less clothes than I used to. Think about it - if living more simply might increase your contentment level, what changes could you make?
3. (You Guessed It) Be More Mindful
Practising mindfulness helps us to live more simply and honour our own wellbeing, even if we do lapse occasionally! Being part of a mindfulness community - whether online or through a class - can also help support this. When we're in contact with others who are also trying to live more mindfully, we get the gentle reminders we need when we start to go off track.
What ways have you found to live more simply? Come tell me about it over on Twitter @sheilabayliss