“Overwhelmed,” “stressed,” “so exhausted,” “absolutely run down” are typical words I have heard parents of little children utter so often. Working mothers in their constant quest to prove to everybody that they are as good as their male colleagues, feel as if they are always chasing time around the clock trying to work out the myth of the work-life balance. Stay at home mothers or what I prefer to call non-paid working mothers, feel their days spooling out as endless hours of feeding, bathing, cleaning, carrying, fetching, soothing, to start the cycle once again the next day.
Whichever side you are on, the guilt of never being good enough haunts us incessantly at the back of our mind. We live in a state of constant “hurry, hurry, hustle, hustle,” as there is always more to be done and achieved. No wonder research in parenting is breaking the fairytale picture of blissful motherhood as now we know that the mothers’ wellbeing plummets after the birth of their babies and only manages to plod back after they leave home. Little scary but in no way am I indicating that you should not have babies. Only that we need to shake things up a little as this is not working for us mothers at all. So unlike Scandinavian countries where mothers’ wellbeing is considered paramount (just imagine that!), in a country like ours, we have to start these little revolutions in our very homes.
“Slow down you move too fast, let it be, take it easy…” These might be the title lyrics of three of my favourite songs but they are also the essence of what I have started believing in more and more as I have grown older and hopefully a little wiser. I wish this was something I could tell my younger self as she struggled to prove herself as a working mother at every moment. That it’s not about how much you do, but what you do, and that less can be more. More than enough. Most importantly, I would tell her that what matters most is that she learns to savour life and have faith that things will work out well and just to take one day at a time.
One of the best parts of being a therapist is that it lets me become a curator of wisdom that other people bring to me. SAVOUR is something I have designed using all that amazing wisdom I have gathered over the years. It is a delicious word and an acronym I use to highlight six daily rituals that can let us do just that – savour our life. Let me walk you through it:
Stillness in the daily rhythm is about connecting to our own selves before we get ready to engage with the world. The best way to create this quiet space is through meditation or finding some mindful moments in which we just sit still. Young parents might find it helpful to wake up half an hour earlier than the kids to find that time. Sitting in nature, even if it is some potted plants in the balcony, can enrich this tranquility as you sit just focusing on your breathing, having tea and just relishing the moment of peace. PicoIyer puts it so well in his book, Art of Stillness, “In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
Align is about working out what we want to focus our energies on that particular day, what really matters in the larger scheme of life. If your energy and time was a resource, what would be your top three buckets of priorities? Name them and block out time in the day when you would fill them up. I am a huge fan of simplicity so I try not to clutter my day with too many buckets as that just leaves me feeling exhausted and rudderless. As I said earlier — less is more for sure.
Before you start your day it is time to visualise how exactly you would like it to pan out. Go through the day in your mind’s eye and visualise yourself as if there was a spotlight following you. Picture how you would fill the buckets of priorities through the day. A lot of research has been done on the power of visualisation. It opens up our brain to create neural pathways and primes it for new possibilities. Michael Phelps, winner of 23 Olympic gold medals in swimming, is well-known for using visualisation as a core training strategy.
Own Your Day
After a still morning, aligning our buckets and visualising our day, we now start our active day. One thing that can derail our day is our squirrel reactive brain which relentlessly chatters away and not let us be present in our life – right now. We might be surrounded by sheer beauty and magnificence of life, in terms of the places we visit, the food we eat, playing with our kids but we often live our lives oblivious to it all. Owning our day is about being more mindful and making sure we do not lose sight of our priority buckets. Apart from the spiral of our thinking, another robber of our time and energy is our addiction to gadgets that puts us in this reactive state with our mind in an endless tailspin. I have a simple mantra for snapping us out of this zombie state – ABC – Alert (I am watering the wrong bucket), Breathe (Pause) and Change the Channel (Start watering the right bucket). All this bucket filling can be a little tedious, so make sure you add elements of playfulness with what I like to call a joy diet – doing stuff that just brings joy to your day like chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee, snuggling up with your favourite book or just pottering in your garden.
I came across this South African word a few years ago. Even though at that time I did not understand its meaning, I fell in love with just the sound of it. So, when I explored to find its meaning I was really struck by its sheer beauty and the resonance I felt with it – ‘A person is a person through other people’. Ubuntu is actually a nebulous concept, which implies our shared humanity, oneness, belonging, being part of a greater whole. We are hardwired to seek connections, to love, to be loved and to belong. A child who grows up in a home with a sense of belonging has already got a headstart in life. If you are a parent, I hope one of your biggest buckets has “family” written on it where you keep the best part of yourself for the people who matter the most to you.
When we make life a daily practice, we also need to take stock of it at the end of the day. Start by appreciating 10 things that happened that day which gave you joy or what you are grateful for. This little ritual will make you mindful of your golden nuggets through the day and savour them even more. Close the various open tabs (just like your computer) from your mind by writing a little journal and letting go of lingering annoyances, worries or resentments. Then finally set the intention for your sleep and the next day, “I will have restful sleep and will get up in the morning feeling light and energetic.”
Now I know some of you might be thinking that SAVOUR might end up sucking too much of your precious time. Actually, SAVOUR is just a way of giving your days a flow and rhythm that will make space for creativity, mindfulness and all things that give meaning to your life. As Annie Dillard described it so wisely, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It is perfectly alright if there are days when you feel you have not been productive. We all need fallow time to really reap richer harvests later. In many ways, SAVOUR embodies the essence of Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese concept which celebrates the beauty of imperfection and focuses on being and not doing, where less is more.