Prioritizing Time

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Prioritizing Time

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

It happened again this week.  There were several tasks I had committed myself to and as I strove to complete them the afternoon wore on. Before I realized how much time had elapsed the shadows were beginning to lengthen.  My plan had been to go for a walk that afternoon, but the day was quickly getting away from me.  The days are shortening now, but fortunately the mild temperatures are mostly holding and daylight still extends at least until 6:30 or 7:00.  So despite the late hour, there was still time to get at least half an hour or 45 minutes worth of walking before the light expired.  But I was in the grip of inertia.  In case you’ve forgotten your high school physics, the basic law says that a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  We’ve talked many times about how hard it is to get moving again after we’ve stopped.  This applies to the short term also.

My tasks had kept me sitting in front of the computer and now all I could think of was all of the things I had not finished and still needed to do.  But I forced myself to get out of the chair and put on my walking shoes.  “I can finish all this later,” I thought and repeated it like a mantra until I began to believe it.  As usual, within 10 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other I was so glad that I had gotten outside that all of those undone tasks quickly faded into the background.  My whole body responded to the movement, the air, the sunlight, the colors and smells of the great outdoors.  When I finished my walk I was so glad I had taken the time.  And, amazingly, I was still able to get everything done that I wanted to complete that day.  Anything left undone was really not so important after all.

Sometimes we feel the lure of perceived demands and deny ourselves the nourishment we need for our own mental and physical health.  You may have heard it said, “when I’m on my death bed the last thing I will regret is not spending more time cleaning my house” or at the office or doing any number of mundane things that we convince ourselves are necessary.  Certainly completing these jobs can give us a sense of satisfaction.  In the case of employment-related tasks sometimes our income may seem to depend on their timely completion.  But how often does an extra 10, 20 or even 30 minutes really make a difference? Even when you imagine that other people are depending on you, surprisingly in most cases all those other people will find a way to manage on their own during your absence. If you get up from your desk and walk around the room, or go up and down the nearest staircase, or outside in the parking lot, or simply spend 15 minutes stretching, will you even remember next week, or next month or next year that you took that time off?  In the long run it really won’t matter.  Most of us expect a level of perfection from ourselves that is usually not required.   Unless you’re a surgeon.  But even then, you still need to take time off and recharge your own internal batteries or your skills will decline and that precision will fade away.  I certainly wouldn’t want that overworked surgeon operating on me!

Think about how you treat yourself if you miss a deadline or fall short of your own exacting standards.  Now think about how you would treat a friend if they did the same thing.  Chances are you would make allowances for the friend.  You might say, “Don’t worry about it.  You did the best you could.”  Would you give yourself the same leeway?  In general, we are much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else in our lives.  Try letting yourself off the hook.  After all, you will most likely have another opportunity to do that same task at another time and maybe you’ll do it differently next time.

In the long run the time you take to boost your physical and mental will serve you well.  In all aspects of your life.  Not taking that time may be far more dangerous than any consequences that might arise when you take that time.  And here’s a surprising fact:  even if you don’t complete all the tasks you set for yourself, the world will still turn, daylight will still arrive on time and the people who care about you will still care about you.  I suppose there are always cases for argument.  But instead of wasting your precious time making those arguments, how about going for that walk instead.  Or build time for a class into your schedule.  Most of you know I teach classes so I consider myself committed to that time.  But just like everyone else I need my own renewal time in order to be the best I can for those who come to my classes.  I consider my “alone time” to be sacred space.  I try not to let anything encroach on that space.  Surprisingly it is really not that hard to schedule around the time you take for yourself.  It just takes a commitment.

Moving your body is a great way to nurture yourself and renew your energy.  No matter what it is you need to do, you will be able to do it better if you take care of yourself first.  Then, instead of berating yourself for your shortcomings, you can pat yourself on the back for making a positive difference in your own life.  What could be more important than that!

Moving Past Pain

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Moving Past Pain

On my walk this morning I ran into a friend I had not seen for some time.  She seemed to be walking well, but I knew she had foot surgery within the last year or so and I asked how she was doing.  “It’s still challenging,” she said, “I still experience neuropathy, but I’ve learned what I can do.  When I first get going it’s tough, but if I just give myself some time to warm up and let my muscles loosen, it’s manageable.” When I saw her she had been out walking for about 30 minutes and found that she was now moving well with little discomfort.  She said, “I’m finding that I really can do pretty much anything I want to do as long as a take my time and have a little patience.”

That morning I had been feeling pretty stiff myself.  In this blog I don’t talk about it much, but I’m still adapting to the changes brought about by cancer treatment in 2014.  Chemo left me with several problems, among them neuropathies of my own.  My feet and legs have changed. The brand of running shoes I wore for years no longer work for me.  For the past two years I’ve been experimenting with different brands and models.  I thought I had finally solved that problem, but this morning I found myself questioning that choice as well.  New pains have begun to assail my legs and before I saw my friend it had occurred to me that I should probably begin the search for shoes again.  My legs were feeling particularly achy.  I even began to think about taking some ibuprofen, something I rarely do these days because of other issues that have developed following chemo.

After encountering my friend I thought, well maybe I’ll wait 20 minutes and see if I still have the pain.  I am a total believer in her practice of moving through the discomfort for a while in hopes it will change.  So I shortened my stride, slowed down a bit and within another 15 minutes or so the pain began to subside.  When I left my house, I told myself that I would only walk a short distance today but I found that I was able to go much further than anticipated and stayed reasonably pain-free for most of it.  There were occasional twinges, but if I distracted myself with the scenery, for example, I would realize that the sensation had passed by the time my attention returned to it.

The point of all of this is that sometimes we have to work through the pain.  When we’re hurting all of our energy seems to focus like a laser beam on our misery.  In a recent article in Tricycle magazine the author, Daisy Hernandez, who was suffering from her own encounter with chronic pain that defied diagnosis, referred to the teaching of the two arrows:  “An arrow hits you and there’s pain. The second arrow is the story we tell ourselves about the first arrow. I’m a loser. This always happens to me. Why me?”  She goes on to say, “The thing about illness is that in addition to its being a series of impermanent and heightened sensations, it is a story that contains many stories.”  We can easily become obsessed with our misfortunes and let them take over our lives.  You might have noticed the reference to illness as “impermanent sensations”.  Surprisingly, even in the case of chronic illnesses, the sensations never stay the same.  They come and go, morph and change – just like everything else in life.  Sometimes we even make friends with these sensations, even cling to them.  They become such a part of us that letting them go means we just might cease to exist.  But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that nothing stays the same.

It may be that even when the pain changes, it might not completely go away, especially when the source is unknown.  We may have no control over how it manifests.  But we create the stories ourselves.  So we also have the power to change them.  In her piece Ms. Hernandez quotes another author, David Loy:  “As David Loy writes in his enchanting book The World Is Made of Stories: ‘To see stories as the problem is to blame the victim. Instead of getting rid of stories one can liberate them: storying more flexibly, according to the situation.’ ”  This sentiment is echoed in an article  by Valerie Sjoberg on the Chopra Center’s website.  She writes about “rebuilding your story of pain” turning it around into something positive.  That might seem like a tall order.  But it’s one more opportunity for practice.  The practice Ms. Sjoberg suggests:  “Catch any negative thought tendencies and choose to spin your experience of pain into a positive story. A positive outlook can help reduce unnecessary suffering and may even provide space for your body to heal.”  Yup – easier said than done.  But it can’t hurt to try it out.  If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up.  Keep trying. That’s what practice means.

Back to my walk today.  So many of us are daunted by the obstacles of illness and pain.  We think, “I can’t do the things I want to do because it hurts too much and I feel too lousy.”  However, just as my friend related sometimes you just have to work through the pain to get past it.  It may seem impossible at first but if you keep trying you just might find that your pain begins to change and maybe you can get a little bit further than you were able to yesterday or last week.  This is a perfect time of year for this type of practice.  Look around and notice the angle of the sun and the color of the leaves.  Today I walked by a field where the haying has begun.  I watched the machines piling up the grass and then pulling it together to make a bale.  Breathing in the smell of freshly mowed grass it was hard to remember that I wasn’t feeling all that great. That’s a good place to start if you want to spin a new story.  Watch the birds.  Listen to their songs.  There  is still much beauty to observe in the world.  If you spend your time focussing on your own suffering you’ll miss it.

And if walking outside is not your thing, you can always take a class and bring your movement indoors.  The same concepts still apply:  warm up slowly and be gentle and compassionate with yourself.  That’s right – treat yourself with the same compassion that you often reserve for others.  Illness and pain can be isolating.  We tend to feel like we are alone with our suffering.  We wrap ourselves in a blanket of self-pity. But this makes me think of the famous saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  Everybody has problems.  No one is exempt.  As Ms. Sjoberg writes: “Developing compassion doesn’t just apply to yourself—it can extend to your interaction with others. Everyone is experiencing their own suffering. Give them some love. It may help them in their healing, too.”

Bottom line: get moving!  You can do it.  Take it slow.  But you are more than your pain, whatever it is.  Allow the rest of you to shine through.