Put space between things.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

(Source: “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk” by Leo Babauta.)

There are many great suggestions on this list of 12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk. Most of them are related in one way or another. But I’ve been working on one rule in particular, in my own way, over the last few years: “Put space between things.” I try to apply this to almost every aspect of my life – from the words that I speak, to the walls of my home. I rarely succeed. But on occasion, I feel some space and am grateful to pause, breathe and take a look around, if only for a moment.

I recognized several years ago that I was in a constant state of anxiety as I tried to accomplish all of the tasks on my never-ending to-do list. So I started weeding my life. (I now realize that this will be an arduous and prolonged task.) The desire to weed extraneous details from my life prompted me to take several steps – many of which are also on the list of essential rules. But one in particular has helped a lot: “Don’t schedule things close together — instead, leave room between things on your schedule.”

My interpretation of this rule could be considered extreme, though. If I had lunch with someone planned, I started declining invitations to other events on the same day, even if the event was much later in the day. I was a little surprised that no one seemed to understand my inability to attend more than one event per day. I received many blank stares and silent pauses, and lost a friend or two (acquaintances, really) during this transition.

Most people I know schedule one activity after another, all day long, seven days a week – multiple appointments and meetings throughout the workday, errands on the way home, dinner out, drinks somewhere else, weekday travel, weekend travel, children’s activities, family events, as well as adventures with pets. And some of them even manage to post photos and commentary on a variety of social media about what seems like a never-ending merry-go-round lifestyle. Sometimes I feel exhausted just from reading the status updates. I often wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” I feel miserable when I maintain life at that pace. I assume one day I will be diagnosed and it will all make sense.

In the meantime, I choose a more relaxed schedule that includes plenty of opportunities to smile, breathe and go slowly. It has given me at least a little more time to think before I speak, pause before I act, sit and just be with my daughter, and even time to write down my thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Put space between things.

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