THIS WEEK I had an email from a brilliant young Hungarian poet, whose writing I sometimes translate (See Poems and Pálinka) and who has a brain the size of a planet and a work ethic to match. We were discussing a new European collection of poetry to which we had both contributed. I asked how he was – “I’m overworked as always…maybe it’s an addiction I should get checked out.”
He was joking, of course, but it made me think. When people come to me for Reiki they nearly always talk of pressure: stress at work, commitments at home, a sense of a mind and body in overdrive, leaving them less able to relax and enjoy themselves, leading, ultimately to illness and distress.
‘I’m far too busy…’
This is a trap I’ve fallen into in my own life too often. A sense, even as a maverick freelancer – or maybe because of this precarious status – that I must chase to keep up. That there is always a danger I will be left behind, as everyone else forges successfully ahead. A foolish compulsion.
Yet the times when I resist this false comparison, the endless forward motion and competition – with others, and, more crucially, with myself – are the times when I become truly contented in my own skin. Sitting watching the birds. Writing a card or letter to a friend, instead of tapping out yet another email. Taking time to make something delicious to eat. Walking in nature. Conversations with others. Playing my ukulele (Progress is slow there – but I am getting better!) None of these things make me money. I will never be rich. Far from it. But abundance is surely not measured in bank notes, or in the number of hours clocked up, chained to the office desk? Down time, “lost” time, dream time – is such a beautiful and life enhancing thing.
A broken system
A lot of the work I do, outside of my Reiki and independent classes, is with two big institutions: one a theatre, the other a national newspaper. I love the projects and the writing that they foster – am committed, body and soul, to the powerful creative collaborations that they engender. But I notice that the people who work within these big buildings are often hopelessly over-committed, even overwhelmed, by the amount of things they have to cope with on a daily basis.
Emails don’t get answered, because they are lost in an Inbox that groans at the seams with demands and diktats. The phone passes instantly to answerphone. Even face-to-face, there is a sense of these valiant worker bees permanently hovering on the wing, primed for the next task, and the one after that, ad infinitum.
Then they leave the office uneasy, knowing that their “To Do” list has barely been touched. And if they are ill – and surely this system is only destined to make people ill? – then they know, that the workload accrued will have doubled and tripled in their absence.
Isn’t it time we did things differently, somehow? Switched off the computer. Switched back on to ourselves?
The hand of kindness
Twenty years ago, when I was doing some movement coaching for drama students in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, I used to worry about their extreme levels of anxiety, their chaotic young lives. What these people need isn’t drama training, I reflected: it’s therapy.
This was the start of a journey for me towards the healing – as well as creative – arts. It led to using gentle movement for people living with dementia and running workshops for refugees and asylum seekers. And recently it has brought me to Reiki. A compassionate touch. Relief from the needless stresses that others lay upon us – and that we lay upon ourselves.
I have been to two funerals in the past two months.Very different people: one a university administrator, the other a primary school teacher. Both of them extremely conscientious and hardworking. But what people talked about most, and appreciated above all, as these dear people’s lives were celebrated, was their kindness and friendship. Kindness is what people will remember you for. It is what will draw them to you. And above all else, it is vital, in this speeded-up, stressed-out, ever-more-edgy society, that we are kind to ourselves. Sit down now – look at the birds, smell the fresh air. Cherish your one and only, your very precious life.