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Keeping it Basic


When I think about all of the machinations in which I’ve engaged in my life—all designed to make me or someone else happy—it’s no wonder it all feels very complicated sometimes. Fortunately, we have things like vacations that make us remember the basics. The very best part of my life is always something very simple: hanging around with the people I love, reading a good book, being outside, moving my body, eating delicious food, or playing with my dogs. Granted, some of those things might seem more amazing if they’re done on a beach in Hawaii or a café in Paris, but the idea remains the same. I need more basic and less complex.

A walk outside, a moment looking at the clouds, or a conversation with someone I love can all help to reset me.

The good news is that I know what feels good—at least somewhere deep in my brain and soul. The bad news is that, in the midst of stress or too much to do, I forget that just simplifying things briefly can be very comforting. It’s in my control, but that’s difficult to remember. It’s like I have a whole box filled with really useful tools and I almost always forget they’re there. Things get crazy and busy and time feels very tight. My panicked brain kicks in and I start making lists. It’s hard to fall asleep at night because I’m mentally cataloguing everything I have to do the next day. Each time someone asks me how I am, I answer, “Busy.”

Although I have almost always found myself in these situations by my own doing, it rarely occurs to me at the time that I can also make it stop.

At this moment, still in the glow of an extremely relaxing Hawaiian vacation, it seems easy to prompt myself to get back to my own basics more frequently. But I’ve felt this way before, and I know this is easier said than done when the semester is going full force and my world starts spinning faster and faster.

Still, it’s like having those tools just barely within my reach and being too overwhelmed to get myself over to them and get them going. I know this is true because I’ve let it happen so many times. I become so consumed with the tasks at hand that, for a bit, my entire focus is on slogging through them. It simply never occurs to me to focus on my own mindset. I forget that the tumult I’ve created around the task is all of my own making. I have to really remind myself that a walk outside, a moment looking at the clouds, or a conversation with someone I love can all help to reset me.

And that’s the thought I want to remember as we move into this new year. As cliché as it sounds, I can’t control what’s going on outside me, but I can control my reaction to it. My peace of mind is up to me. I always know that I’m in charge of how I feel about something, but that hasn’t stopped me from hammering away at the thing that’s bugging me instead of soothing my own busy brain. That’s the part I can manage and navigate—not other people’s actions or behaviors. I know it intellectually, but I am only just now beginning to create a new habit of working on the interior rather than the exterior.

Part of me, of course, wants to be the master of everything in my life. I don’t really like acknowledging that there are lots of things I can’t control. But even writing that, I see the absurdity in thinking I can “control” anything. Still, in the midst of a crazy, busy time, all I can think of is, “How can I stop this speeding train?” This year I’m going to work on letting the train go by on its own. I’m going to think instead about sitting down on that little bench near the track and watching it fly past me. I’d like to get to the point that I can marvel at the engineering behind the flurry and find my own stillness at the same time. It’s one of my life jobs, I know it. It's definitely time.

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