Being Overwhelmed:Part 1

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

How anchoring in purpose allows you to get Ready and Steady when life is all Go....

Photo by Phil Goodwin on Unsplash

I had an outbreak of Overcommitmentitis about a month ago. Symptoms of the condition include feverishness, delirium and a peculiar type of memory loss that, like blackouts or amnesia, messes with your sense of time. This bout had crept up on me stealthily like a slow-spreading rash.

I realised I was having an outbreak only while telling my friend Maria about an exercise from an online class. She was confused. “Wait - is this a different class from the one you told me about last week ? How many classes are you doing ?” I counted. “Umm, three?”

Well, three online. Plus a kinda full time yoga teacher training. And a six week meditation class thing. Oh and running my business, single-parenting a teenager and launching a new website.

“Sounds a bit overwhelming - when are you planning to sleep?” she asked.

I found myself grinning at her concerned face. As each course began, tutors had been saying stuff like, “you may be feeling overwhelmed!”

"Are you kidding? I’m not gonna be back at “whelmed” again before 2020!"

I’m like a little kid in the middle of a water park when all the jets turn inwards and a bell starts tolling that the MegaBucket is about to tip, ANY. SECOND. NOW.

I texted my friend Janine who has long lived with a FOMO-type of Overcommitmentitis triggered by contact with juicy creative projects. She texted me back from the site of the rundown Lithuanian schoolhouse that she recently bought on impulse. “Did you forget there weren’t 86 hours in a day?”

Those with the FOMO-type find it hard to turn themselves down when confronted with their compulsion. Others have the Fear of Causing Offence (FOCO) type in which they find it hard to turn others down. I’ve suffered a little of both but the trigger for both of them is learning.

Since childhood, classes of any sort have always seemed like magical thresholds into other worlds. Whether it was ‘Wing Attack’’ in netball or ‘staccato’ in music, there was a language and culture to each class that transported me somewhere new and exciting at a time when chances to travel were rare and the internet was not yet a gleam in someone’s eye. While others were finding the pub on a Friday night, I was finding First Aid training.

Through my twenties as a corporate lawyer I took tennis and diving classes. As a TV executive in my thirties, I would seek out classes on my frequent business travel: aerobics classes in Thailand, yoga classes in Indonesia. Meanwhile my office desk drawer overflowed with leaflets for pottery and aikido and ballroom dancing. When online classes appeared, I’m lucky my head didn’t explode.

But just as binge-drinking leads to hangovers, binge class-taking leads to homework. A few weeks into any class, as information and work pile up, it can start to feel like drinking from a firehose.

At that point in a course, it’s all too easy for me to get angry and frustrated at having taken on too much. The choices start to look like 'quit' - or 'martyr up' and push through until I am exhausted.

The turning point for my relationship with courses was when I was 40, pregnant and about to quit my big job in TV. In the third trimester, while all the other expectant mothers were practising breathing or on ‘babymoons’, I was taking any course I could still squeeze through the door to get into. Jewellery-making, quilting, knitting, baking - if it gave out a certificate and was within waddling distance, I was on it.

Mythologist Michael Meade speaks of the political and environmental turbulence we are living through as a ‘threshold of change’. It certainly feels as though so much is breaking down and the new has not yet emerged.

Meade claims that through living in a time of change and allowing ourselves to participate in it, we can find meaningful purpose that awakens the heart and leads us in the right direction in the world.

In taking those courses, I was doing something more than escaping the world of clinics and weigh-ins and blood tests. Working with my hands to create beautiful things, I was trying to participate in the change. Through those classes I was connecting to the generations of women before me who prepared for motherhood by ‘nesting’. Who sat in circles knitting, stitching and crafting their spirits into being mothers.

At the thresholds of my life, it can be a pattern to distract myself with courses - escape hatches to other places. But the fact that I sleepwalk through these doors and not those ones has something to tell me. If I can get curious and listen, I can hear a yearning beyond the busyness.Something in me is reaching in the way it knows best - through taking classes - for deeper qualities, the qualities that will give life to the next phase. Like a thirsty plant burrowing a tap root deep down into the soil to find water, I enrol in courses not in spite of how full and fast changing life, but because of that- the classes are me rooting down into the ground of my being to find purpose.

Yesterday, sitting with my coffee in the pre-dawn light booting up my screen for the second online class of the week, I contemplated what I am in the middle of this month. A writing class, a class about power, a class about working with shadow parts. As I login and hear the ‘dings’ as my fellow students from around the world join the call, I suddenly 'grok' what I am burrowing toward, the inquiry I am in. In this class, and all the others, we're seeking to express what is true but has been hidden for us. I'm dancing with a tribe of "Truth Archaeologists" around the world, in online class, small group calls and streams of whatsapp messages.

In a world where the truth seems to have gone underground, we are gathering here to lie in wait for it. To lure it out with heart-felt rituals of writing and speaking and sometimes just sitting together. Truth is what this season is about.

It’s easy to read the news today and feel despair. I don’t know for sure but I’m guessing white rhinos don’t know that they are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction. But as humans we’re not only capable of signing up for courses of action that overwhelm the planet, we’re also capable of waking up with an environmental hangover and an “oh, sh*t” moment and saying “now what?”

It feels like our capacity to excavate and express truth and help others meet truth is part of what is being called for by those of us alive today. My tribes of Truth Archaeologists aren’t just laying bricks - we’re building a cathedral.

Seeing that makes heart-sense to me. Feeling it, my body shifts. Knowing that every assignment, every early morning call, every piece of feedback on a classmate's work is helping midwife more truth into the world energises me but also has me relax.

“It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it” says someone on the call. I laugh, thinking of the old ‘Bananarama song, “......And that’s what gets results!”

This is surely true. The way that you do it gets results. And is worth exploring in the rest of this series, but what matters first is why you are doing it. For the sake of what that is meaningful for you? What about that makes you feel more alive as a human being?

Because being 'on purpose' has the power to regenerate you when what's coming at you knocks you down or makes you want to quit. Purpose plugs you back into the grid of life when you are in serious need of recharging.

So like that kid in the water park, I slip and slide my way back to my feet, pick up my little buckets and run towards the jets again…...

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