September 2007
Prepare to Stop

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

…the almighty ‘Schedule’ that turns life into Class V white water, churning with demands, deadlines, and delusions.
Sunflower

Well, what do you know? It’s Back-to-School again. That means another summer has… evaporated. Sigh. What is it about summer that we all love so much? It’s not the heat, that’s for sure. It’s not even the sound of the ice cream truck that makes me want to run outside yelling “Stoooooppppp!”

Here’s my theory, we’re all hooked on summer’s golden promise. Every year we’re suckered by the dream of slamming on the brakes and busting out of the almighty “Schedule” that turns life into Class V white water, churning with demands, deadlines, and delusions. But the Schedule is an intractable beast and we’re bolted to it. Week after blurry week we ride the rapids, often white-knuckling it, and always holding our breath until we smack into something and capsize. Princess Diana’s memorial is announced. Has it been ten years, already?! For a moment the Schedule loses its grip.

White-knuckling itWe stop. We ponder the unknowable. Where’d the time go?

Time doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s always right here. It’s us who zip around like a bunch of crazies. Maybe you think you know where this is going. Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, Annie, slowing down is a fine idea. I might try it some day. But right now, I’ve got way too much on my plate to even think about downshifting.”

Believe me, I understand. I’m the same way. As I scrub up in the shower I’m planning my dog-walking route. When the pooch and I trot down the driveway, I’m evaluating breakfast options. As I eat my oatmeal, I’m thinking about email, phone calls, and this newsletter that I’ve got to finish writing today. It never stops. I never stop.

Sigh.

But every once in a while I notice that I’m dashing around or stuck in a mental whirlpool, and I try to slow down. But it’s tough. Especially when I’m wrestling with a madwoman hell-bent on going 80. She’s not into brakes (or breaks) and she hates being told how to live her life. But I am managing (at least for a moment here and there) to shove her out of the driver’s seat and lock her in the trunk.

Then I close my eyes and I breathe.

My home officeI’m not embarrassed to say that I like to breathe. I do it a lot. At red lights. In the kitchen. At my computer. Right before I answer the phone. Even in the middle of a “lively” family discussion. It helps me go into summer mode any time, and to hang out there, peacefully, just for a minute. Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and author of Peace is Every Step puts it this way: “If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and everyone in our family… will benefit from our peace.”

When it comes right down to it, couldn’t we all benefit from some peace and happiness? Couldn’t our families?

Beginnings, like September, set the tone for what comes next. Instead of hitting the ground running this school year, how about choosing to set a different tone? First step, whenever you notice there’s a crazy person at the wheel, boot him/her out, then pay attention to your breathing. It keeps you anchored to the here and now. And let’s face it, now is all we’ve got. It’s all we’ve ever had. And it’s more than enough. Now is where you live and it’s worth paying attention to. When you slow down you can focus on what’s going on around you and enjoy your life, which is a pretty amazing thing. Your children are also totally amazing. Wake up and listen to them. Love them with your full attention and you can transform your family, one moment at a time.

WarmthAt the end of last month, David and I took off for our anniversary. We drove up the coast, walked on the beach, bought salt-water taffy, watched the night sky from a hammock. On the winding highway home, we passed two signs: Rough Road Ahead and Be Prepared to Stop. Might have been posted for parents of teens. Good advice for anyone.

In friendship,
Annie

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