Yesterday I clocked it. Approximately every 48 minutes I got an email from either my children's schools or an after school sports coach. In one hour I averaged an email every 16 minutes.
"I can't believe they changed the time of Aden's soccer game four times!" my husband shouted out to me in my office in the late afternoon on a Friday. I told him I had no idea they had changed it more than once -- I hadn't checked my email in over an hour.
Then there are the birthday invitations. Two this month. One on a day when there was snow predicted. Another six emails.
I discovered the teacher appreciation week volunteer email one week late, I looked at and then promptly forgot about an email that my middle school son's guitar teacher sent telling me he had a gig on Aden's normal day for lessons resulting in Aden missing the make-up lesson, and I recently found out that my high school son got nominated to apply for a prestigious symposium on racism told to me in an email I never clicked on.
But the gold star for emailing must be given to the head of the high school athletics program. This year my son made both the junior varsity and varsity teams. A great honor, and a mathematical scheduling nightmare. First there were the two schedules to input into my calendar, totaling approximately 15 hours of basketball every week. Next came the revised schedule. Five minute later the "DISREGARD MY PREVIOUS EMAIL I MADE A FEW CHANGES" email. And now, three weeks into the season there have been a total of 25 emails and four schedule changes.
Here's what my evening looks like: basketball games or practices until 8 p.m., dinner; talking about basketball games and practices that have been changed; going on the school website to double-check that I have the most recent information for basketball games and practices; and falling asleep realizing I've scheduled a work meeting at pick-up time for one basketball game; whispering to my husband whether he can do pick up; my husband going to check his calendar on his cell phone; resolving issue; then back to sleep.
I am sure life never used to be this complicated. I played high-school basketball, was captain of my team, and never do I remember my mother even writing down my basketball games. They just happened. There were no 25 emails.
I keep coming back to this central question: why is life so complicated? Is it simply technology -- those smartphones that make us available now even in the middle of the Serengeti tracking cheetahs? Is it hyper helicopter parenting? Is it perfectionism? How did daily life get so out of control? And, perhaps more to the point, how do we take it back?
On paper, given my work and kids' schedules; and the fact that my husband travels about three to four months every year for work; and we can't afford a nanny and don't have a family member to help out -- I should be about a year away from being committed to a mental ward. Life is busy. But I'm not even close to signing up at the nearest mental facility. Actually, I'm exceedingly happy. Probably the happiest I've been in my life. And this makes me curious.
I don't really believe in movie-esque answers to big picture questions, as in the music cues as I ask "why is life so complicated?" and the magical answer appears. But I do believe in the power of following a scent. For me, the scent is simplicity and less overwhelm. The other day I realized there are a few staples in my diet that keep me on the trail of this scent. They are:
Mindfulness. Twenty-five years ago I was a 22-year-old who had been in the Peace Corps but not done much else when I stood by my father's beside and watched him die. A year later, feeling lost, I picked up The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and a few months after that I found Thich Nhat Hanh's book Peace Is Every Step and started living my life more mindfully. Mindfulness simply means living in the present moment, without judgment, with purpose. The more I do this, the happier I am. Mindfulness has taught me that I can get frustrated with all the 25 emails. But isn't it nicer to breathe in and say hello to the frustration, and breathe out a smile at my frustration -- instead of letting all those emails take my breath away and dig me deeper into frustration and overwhelm?
Meditation. Most mindfulness practices typically include meditation, it's a natural union. Meditation is like a cousin of mindfulness, because when you meditate you become mindful. Six weeks after my father passed away I was invited to a church to meditate with a group of six people. The moment I sat down I was struck by how uncomfortable being still and sitting in silence felt, and yet there was another part of me that felt as if I had returned to my mother's womb, a safe home that felt seductive and mysterious. Today I meditate every night after taking a bath, even if it's just for three minutes. It's my lifeline to sanity in a busy world, and practically speaking it's a place no email can enter. If it does come up in my mind, like a cloud, I just let it pass on through.
Sleep. I've always loved sleep and prided myself as a deep sleeper. Years ago while camping in Africa, a hippopotamus jumped into the river near our tented site in the middle of the night waking the enter campsite... except me. I thought given my history of being such a deep sleeper that when I had my children I would not wake from their nighttime sounds. Well, my first son made sure to end my champion sleep days. For his first 18 months of life I averaged five hours of sleep per night on a good night. Then came son number two, putting me in a sleep-deprived stupor for years. I gave up my meditation practice, mindfulness and sleep. Not surprisingly, I started having panic attacks. Yes, I needed sleep, but the kids were young and I was way too busy to sit down and meditate. The whole idea of meditation felt like a rude joke on mothers. Of course moms can't meditate, we never sit down.
Yoga Nidra Meditation. I was miserable back then, until I walked into a yoga studio and smelled a scent that turned me on. It was mindfulness, meditation and sleep tied up in a bow. I was told it's called yoga nidra meditation, a sleep-based meditation technique. All you do is lie down and do nothing.
Like when you first see a mirage, I told the woman at the front desk of the yoga studio this can't be true. But then I saw it for myself. Twenty-five people in a room lying down covered in blankets with the lights off doing nothing, the instructor guiding them through deep relaxation body and breath awareness techniques.
Are you kidding me, I thought. Sign me up.
Six months after doing yoga nidra meditation I was back to the deep sleeper I'd always been. My sleep, my happiness, and my health soared. Yoga nidra meditation felt like catnip - all I wanted was more. A year later not surprisingly I got off the medication I was taking for panic attacks.
Today I use yoga nidra meditation to manage my current stage of life: technology overload, parental overwhelm, and fatigue from all the doing. Just last Saturday at the end of a busy week I sandwiched yoga nidra meditation between two basketball games while getting a pedicure. As I laid back I felt myself going from blah to bliss, my body so deeply relaxed. The manicurist looked at me and asked, "You okay?"
You bet I was.