At least once a day – though often many more times than that – I notice that the radio station in my head is playing Belle and Sebastian. “I Want the World to Stop.”
Because I do. Constantly. I want it to stop. Just for a little bit. Just ’til I get my bearings again. But it doesn’t. Ever.
And so here I am, trying to figure out how I’m supposed to eke out of a living without doing anything immoral whilst being a good husband whilst brushing my teeth twice a day whilst seeking my true calling whilst avoiding palm oil whilst remembering not to use “gay” as a degoratory term whilst trying to be honest and forthright but not to people who might use it against me…
I can’t be the only one who finds all this a somewhat tall order.
Well, one thing’s for sure – the world isn’t going to stop itself any time soon. So it’s up to me – I have to find a way to adapt myself to it. And the crazy thing is that I found the solution to this problem years and years ago. It worked then, and it continues to work every time I apply it.
I’m just too terrified to actually apply it.
It’s been known about for thousands of years, this solution. It goes by many names. Solitude. Renewal. Meditation. Self-care.
All these things point to the same thing – what Steven Covey calls “sharpening the saw”. Stepping back from the heat of the moment and reflecting. Taking time to prioritise, to get perspective, to listen to your inner wisdom. Giving your mind a break.
But here’s my kneejerk reaction to it – and the reason I don’t do it all that much: If I feel up against it, if I feel every time I successfully put out a fire two new ones go ablaze, then how the hell can I afford to hit the pause button and take some “quiet time”? How spoilt! How indulgent! There’s too much to do to stop!
The real question should be: “How the hell can I afford not to?”
I feel qualified to talk about this because I’m guilty of getting it wrong 99% of the time. I constantly feel like there’s way too much to do and that I have to do it all today and that if I don’t there’ll be more to do tomorrow and so in any given moment there are seventeen dozen competing priorities and I don’t want to choose because whichever one I choose will be wrong and AAAAAAAAGH…
As you can see, the way I’ve been doing it isn’t working out so great.
A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”a quote of unknown origin, commonly misattributed to Abraham Lincoln
The thing is, when you’re in that spiral, when adrenaline is your fuel, you’re never actually all that effective. You think you are because you’re moving quickly. But you’re not getting anywhere. You’re distracted by the fires you think you need desperately to put out. You run around like a headless chicken, moving from fire to fire, but putting none of them out. You can’t – every time you’re about to, you notice a new one.
But when you “stop the world” – even just for a little while – you regain a little clarity. And when you have just a tiny bit more clarity, well now your actions actually can make a difference. This means two things. One, you start to figure out how to put the fires out, and find yourself more able to do so than ever. And two, you realise there were never really that many fires to begin with. Your brain was lying to you.
Yes, it takes a leap of faith to just walk away when all you can see is fire. It can even feel irresponsible. But you have to trust that if you take that little bit of time for yourself, the world is not going to explode. You aren’t going to end up with even more fires to put out afterwards. This is scary, I know. It terrifies me.
Fortunately, it’s a leap of faith that always pays off. You get your life back again. More than that, you start to spend time in what is actually the “real world”, rather than what is falsely called the “real world.”
You might not realise it, but if your days are fuelled by stress and anxiety, you are actually living an incredibly delusional existence, totally disconnected from the truth of what’s going on. Oh, I know it feels real… there’s danger around every corner… tragedy will befall you if you let your guard down… suspicion is only natural…
But these are just lies you’re letting yourself believe.
Life isn’t the olympics. There are no medals for being the most stressed, the most obligated, the most overwhelemed person you know. There is no glory, or honour, or valour, in deluding yourself. All you get is a miserable life and an early grave.
Let the world stop from time to time and regain your centre. Turn off your phone. Go sit somewhere for half an hour and just… be.
No, doing this once won’t change your life. And it won’t put out any of the fires that truly are burning. But it’s something. It’s a start. It’s a sigh of relief. And when you feel like the walls are closing in, that’s worth more than all the money in the world.