To combat chaos we have to find a place of calm. Easier said than done I know, but stating resolution is a good start. Learning to thrive in chaos is a process. It requires deliberate actions and steps of faith. Part of this process, I’ve found, is the need to make space.
This did not come easy for me. A year ago, I was living trapped in a state of restlessness. It felt like my schedule and my headspace were both constantly double booked. My plate was too full and the overflow began pooling like the dirty water that was clogging the bathtub drain in my studio apartment. To prevent it from leaking into plain sight, I internalized the chaos subconsciously creating a hostile environment for my mind, my body, and my spirit. One sleepless night in an act of desperation I wrote “BE CHILL” in big scraggly letters covering an entire page of my journal. I was yelling at myself to accomplish calm. This of course, is not the answer. See, I had only ever learned how to do more. Never taught to do… less.
In a happenstance of synchronicity, my cousin gave me a copy of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. The book introduces the philosophy of less, but better - the importance of giving yourself permission to say no in order to make your highest contribution to what really matters. This philosophy is not only paramount in the journey towards success, but also in that of finding calm (as I’m learning, the two go hand-in-hand depending on your definition of success - we will dig into that later).
While reading McKeown’s book, I was living in New York and working in the music industry, so naturally I subscribed to “grind” culture: Work hard, play hard; be a yes person; make yourself indispensable; attack your calendar with neurosis, etc. Mentors in the corporate space had instilled these ideals in me while Manhattan’s workforce modeled them daily like ants coming and going from their mound, moving ceaselessly at lightning speed to keep up with the rest of the colony.
“While other people are living a life of stress and chaos, you will be living a life of impact and fulfillment,” writes McKeown. “In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.” I was intrigued. I wanted less, but better. I wanted to join the quiet revolution. But as I dove deeper and got more honest with myself, I started to recognize that my self-imposed reality was getting in the way and weighing me down. I was bending over backwards to accommodate everyone around me. I felt caught up in everything and overwhelmed, drowning in the chaos I seemingly had created by my inability to say no. And even when I did have a moment to stop, I never felt rejuvenated. I didn’t know how to rest. My life was overpopulated and needed serious pruning. I needed to make space.
If a closet is stuffed full of old clothes, it loses its inherent functionality - you can’t access the clothes you actually want to wear. Making space means letting go of things, habits, and people creating unhealthy clutter in the “closet”. It means learning how to say no and it means learning how to slow down.
Pre-COVID capitalistic society spun a lie that busyness is a sign of importance. It’s not. We subconsciously and habitually brag and complain about our busy schedules. Our ego uses it as a trick to make us feel valuable. We’re addicted to our stress and when we find ourselves with a sliver of unscheduled time we often become anxious feeling unproductive, excluded, unimportant, or restless.
In COVID, the world has suddenly gone from 60 to 0 in 3.5 forcing us to slow down with the mandated change to our social calendars. This could be an obvious opportunity to begin making space, but do we instead fill it up with something else?
For a lot of us, we don’t know how to accept space, let alone exist in it calmly. This is a mindset and a lifestyle we have to cultivate. It takes practice, discipline, and habitual change. Overstimulated by ceaseless noise reverberating off our third appendage (aka our phone) and thoughts and anxieties ping-pongy-ing in our heads we are quick to occupy the quiet, open places.
Making space is an intentional process (key word, process). The age old illustration of pruning a tree so it can bear fruit applies. Cutting things out of your life isn’t easy, and usually rather painful at first. But dead leaves prevent the tree from thriving. Pruning is necessary if we want to find a calm place to exist and space to thrive. Step one, make room. Step two, learn how to exist in it. First part is about the pruning. You have to take things out before you can add good stuff in. Second part is, well, many parts. It’s mental, physical, and spiritual. It’s about rest, rejuvenation, grace and purpose. It’s about meditation, movement, creativity, impact, and play (all to be discussed). It’s a journey, one I’m on and learning as I go. So if you’ll have me, let’s keep talking. Let’s make space. Let’s find calm. Let’s learn how to thrive in chaos.
(collage credits: original content, Zak Batstone, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown, James Blake, Deep Purple, Viktor and Rolf)