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“We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  Marcel Proust

What does “lighten up” mean to you? Losing a few pounds to be ready for swimsuit season? Eating lighter food as the weather turns warmer? What about lightening up your “to do” list? As days grow longer with the increased light of the summer solstice, instead of increasing your workload, why not try decreasing it? My “to do” list has grown since my book Twelve Mindful Months was published in October and it has challenged my quest for mindfulness and balance. Maybe, like me, it’s impossible to clear your schedule, but instead of giving in to all-or-nothing thinking, make a conscious choice to add small breaks of mindfulness throughout each day instead of waiting for the day (that never comes) when all you need to do will be done.

A month ago I began teaching a weekly class at Golden Door based on my book, and I’d like to share one part that resonates with June’s theme. When we are caught up in the whirlwind of work and daily tasks and there’s no consciousness behind what we’re doing, stress and negativity arise. Thich Nhat Hanh offers an explanation of the Yin/Yang symbol which reminds us that we need equal amounts of “doing” and “being” to feel in balance. The white side represents the Yin, or feminine energy, which is the “being.” The black side represents the Yang, or masculine energy, which is the “doing.” We all possess both qualities, but sometimes we have a tendency to have too much of one and not enough of another. In the symbol, the two sides embrace each other, but in the middle of the white side is a black dot and in the middle of the black side is a white dot. The black dot in the center of the white side reminds us that within the stillness of “being” we must keep a dynamic quality of “doing”- otherwise we may fall asleep, and the white dot in the center of the black side reminds us that in the midst of all the “doing” we must stay centered and keep a quality of “being” so we don’t lose ourselves.

Remember the I Love Lucy show? One of the most popular episodes was when Lucy got a job on a line in a candy factory. She couldn’t keep up with boxing all the chocolates, they were coming so fast, so she started eating them, shoving them in her mouth as quickly as she could. It’s a perfect metaphor for our fast-paced lives these days. Once we get on that frantic mission of “doing” it’s hard to stop, we just keep doing more and more in an effort to keep up, but it never ends.

So I can totally relate. I’m definitely prone to compulsive “doing.” I get a high from crossing things off my list. From looking back on my day and marveling at all I’ve accomplished. And certainly it’s not a bad thing, as I wouldn’t have written and published Twelve Mindful Months. I know a lot of people like me. (Are you one of those people too?) Or – are you one of those people who wishes you could be more motivated? Most of us tend to lean towards one side or the other, so we need to study the habits of those opposite of us and learn new ways of thinking,doing and being. A comment I often hear from workaholics is that they love their work, it is their passion, so it doesn’t feel like “doing.” It is a blessing to love what you do for work (I do) and to be centered in the midst of it, like when you are partaking in other pastimes such as writing, photography, art, cooking, sports. But we do need downtime where we can just be. To do nothing. To pause and reflect. To be fully present with our breath and senses. To be aware of nature and the world around us. We are so used to multi-tasking that we forget how to focus on the task at hand. We’re losing our patience because we’re used to getting answers to our questions via the swipe of a finger or a tapping of an app on our smartphones. There are wonderful benefits of technology, but due to that constant access to information at our fingertips we are becoming insatiable, less able to access our own memory circuits, to be creative or imaginative. As a society we have become more distracted, impatient and demanding than ever.

IMG_0664Mindfulness has been medicine for me whenever I have caught myself gobbling up my ever-growing “to do” list. Being in nature, pauses to focus on breath, and meditation allow me to slow down and get out of my head and into my heart. To help remind me – and you – I’ve composed a summer “to be” list (feel free to check-off those things you may already do and the one you complete):

    1. Try to limit work or tasks to those that are timely or necessary.

    2. Unplug after sunset. Read a good book.

    3. Catch yourself being impatient and ask yourself why. Adopt the words of my favorite T’ai Chi teacher DeeJay – “no hurry, no worry” – as your new mantra. Allow extra time to get where you’re going and try driving the speed limit.

    4. Let someone into line ahead of you at the grocery store.

    5. Don’t fuss when your child or your elderly parent is moving too slow.

    6. Get up early to witness the first light of day and experience inner stillness.

    7. Savor a glass of iced tea under the shade of a tree and just experience nature and all it’s wonder.

    8. Walk barefoot along the water and look at the waves, tune-in to the sounds and rhythm of the tides, feel the sun and the wind buffet your body.

    9. Listen to your favorite music without doing anything else.

    10. Laugh more. Smile at strangers. Play more with children and pets. Take guilt-free quality time to be with friends and your spouse.

Work less. Play more. Just be. Lighten up.

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