Monday, June 30, 2014

Learning to Walk Again

It had been another fourteen hour day with no lunch break and barely leaving my desk. I left the office that night with tight shoulders and a feeling of extreme fatigue. I walked past the security guard to the parking garage and my car seemed to drive itself home. As I crawled into bed, I fell into a restless night of sleep knowing I would have to do it all again tomorrow. My mind, body, and spirit had become so fatigued I could no longer sleep soundly. I gained weight because there was no time to workout. I was becoming uncomfortable in my own skin. I had no time to make new friends after almost a year of living in a fabulous new city because I was always working. The slightest error or problem at work would cause me to weep and become withdrawn. I constantly asked myself if there would ever be a time I'd feel like I'd accomplished something of value and worth? After the many personal challenges of 2013, I was heading down a path of internal destruction. With all of the career coaching I had given others, I knew it was up to me to reclaim a healthy mind, body, and spirit.

Looking back it seems obvious now. My return to a business environment was only placed in my path to remind me of my true calling and passion. There were moments during the past year that I truly enjoyed my work. But I knew it was not fulfilling my deepest calling and did not allow me to be my best self. Without the richness of personal or professional support systems, I could not make smart decisons or perform at my truest level of excellence. I longed for thoughtful, supportive conversations with colleagues. I longed for interactions where I could mentor and encourage others. I longed to be able to trust my decisions and intellect. Everyday there was unnecessary scrutiny and a new decision to be made with little time for depth. While I enjoy a fast paced, energetic environment, this had become unhealthy. For some, this was an exciting and prestigious way to work. For me, it was draining and dangerous for my wholeness. I was eating more and sleeping less. Researchers have coined a phrase called "decision fatigue." The findings indicate that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control when faced with constant decisions under pressure (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007). The simple act of making decisions progressively depletes our ability to make them well. I found myself agreeing to things that I would never find acceptable outside of this fatigued physical and mental state of mind. 
My values, priorities and leadership style were becoming deeply incongurent. I was not positively motivated and had become physically and emotionally depleted.

After one particularly late evening at the office, I was reading some of the writings of Nipun Mehta and realized I required a more peaceful, supportive existence in both my professional and personal life. Mehta offers a simple thought process in recounting his walking pilgrmage across rural India. His acronym for WALK still speaks volumes to me:

The W in WALK stands for Witness.  "When you walk, you quite literally see more. Your field of vision is nearly 180 degrees, compared to 40 degrees when you are traveling at 62 mph.  Higher speeds smudge our peripheral vision, whereas walking actually broadens your canvas and dramatically shifts the objects of your attention. A walking pace is the speed of community. Where high speeds facilitate separation, a slower pace gifts us an opportunity to commune."

The A in WALK stands for Accept.  "When walking in this way, you place yourself in the palm of the universe, and face its realities head on. Mehta writes, "We walked at the peak of summer, in merciless temperatures hovering above 120 degrees. Sometimes we were hungry, exhausted and even frustrated. Our bodies ached for just that extra drink of water, a few more moments in the shade, or just that little spark of human kindness. Many times we received that extra bit, and our hearts would overflow with gratitude.  But sometimes we were abruptly refused, and we had to cultivate the capacity to accept the gifts hidden in even the most challenging of moments. So I encourage you to cultivate equanimity and accept whatever life tosses into your laps -- when you do that, you will be blessed with the insight of an inner transformation that is yours to keep for all of time."

The L in WALK stands for Love. "The more we learned from nature, and built a kind of inner resilience to external circumstances, the more we fell into our natural state -- which was to be loving. In our dominant paradigm, Hollywood has insidiously co-opted the word, but the love I’m talking about here is the kind of love that only knows one thing -- to give with no strings attached.  Purely. Selflessly. Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Now-a-days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” We have forgotten how to value things without a price tag.  Hence, when we get to our most abundant gifts -- like attention, insight, compassion -- we confuse their worth because they’re priceless. Metha noticed that in urban cities, the people he encountered began with an unspoken wariness: “Why are you doing this?  What do you want from me?”   In the countryside, villagers almost always met him with an open-hearted curiosity launching straight in with: "What’s your story?”
The next line in Metha's essay took me to a deep place of knowing." He writes, "In the villages, your worth wasn’t assessed by your business card, professional network or your salary. That innate simplicity allowed them to love life and cherish all its connections."

The K in WALK stands for Know thyself. "Sages have long informed us that when we serve others unconditionally, we shift from the me-to-the-we and connect more deeply with the other.  That matrix of inter-connections allows for a profound quality of mental quietude. Like a still lake undisturbed by waves or ripples, we are then able to see clearly into who we are and how we can live in deep harmony with the environment around us. When one foot walks, the other rests.  Doing and being have to be in balance. Our rational mind wants to rightfully ensure progress, but our intuitive mind also needs space for the emergent, unknown and unplanned to arise. Doing is certainly important, but when we aren't aware of our internal ecosystem, we get so vested in our plans and actions, that we don't notice the buildup of mental residue.  Over time, that unconscious internal noise starts polluting our motivations, our ethics and our spirit. And so, it is critical to still the mind. A melody, after all, can only be created with the silence in between the notes (Methta, 2005, 2012).

And there it is. I have chosen to walk. No anger, no regrets, no wasted time. I am learning to walk again while healing my mind, body, and spirit. It is with gratitude that through a painful experience, I have returned to my true path. I have chosen to return to completing my PhD and pursuing a career in higher education. No big titles or the glamorous perks of corporate life, but I am able to hear myself think again. I can even trust my decisions, leadership abilities, and use my God-given talents. I am encouraged to continue my pursuit of my PhD by my colleagues. I am awakened in the mornings ready to mentor, encourage, and give of myself to my students and staff. That is my calling. That is my path. 
I am going to continue walking it. I might even run again! Walk with joy and peace where ever the path takes you.