Category Archives: self-care

What Matters Most in Life (When a Fire Alarm and a Typo Became a Messenger)

How do we identify what’s truly important in life? (And why does it matter?)

There are always the quick answers, such as: happiness, family, and health, but these are somewhat theoretically cliché and intangible, however true. It’s getting to the more tangible answers that eludes many of us until we are faced with crisis and/or tragedy.

Last week I went through two unexpected situations which resulted in my having a direct and very clear understanding of what’s important in life (for me, anyway), and I found that there was an underlying message I needed to hear.

When I sat down to write this week’s InspireBytes™ I took note of what the Universe was trying to tell me through these experiences, which turned out to be this:

  1. Know your Self and your core, let the rest fall away.
  2. Slow down, prioritize, and make time for what matters most.

Let these be your guide.

But first, let me tell you what happened.

Early in the week we had a fire alarm in the house. For those of you who have been following along in my life, you know that my father had a stroke almost 10 years ago and is disabled as a result. A fire alarm is no small thing when you are able-bodied, but when you’re disabled, it can create a sense of helplessness and panic. A few years ago I wrote about the fire alarm that went off in my apartment building, and how it clarified for me what mattered most in my life. This was the same, except that now, instead of one animal there were four, and instead of one person there were three, one of whom was incapacitated and wholly dependent on others.

Why the fire alarm went off we don’t know, because there was no fire. No smoke, no flames, no emergency. But in the few moments between the alarm and the assessment, everything became very clear. What you take with you in a crisis or emergency is a cheat sheet to what matters most in your life. For me, it was anything that was breathing (people, animals), followed by a means of escape and shelter (car keys), and communication (cell phone).

The second situation, however, was a bit different:

Later in the week I received my mammogram results. It’s an annual event that, no matter how much I rationalize it, always generates some level of concern during the waiting period. Sadly, I think we all know someone who was “perfectly healthy” who received a life-changing result after their annual exam. It’s this knowledge that creates the background soundtrack of concern or worry until the results are in.

A few years ago, I had a mini-scare that turned out to be just that (thankfully), and have a dear friend who went through that episode with me. I am aware, therefore, that the concern while waiting for results extends beyond the borders of my mind to people who care about me. Once I had the results in hand, which showed no sign of cancer, I felt relief and wanted to share that relief with my friend. In my haste to share the good news of my results, I typed too fast and had a typo.

My typo basically told my friend that the exam had detected cancer. Of course, having been emotionally blindsided, my friend called immediately. I didn’t understand why until the error was pointed out.

I felt truly awful, and though I chuckled for a moment (to relieve the strain of the heartache I had caused someone dear to me), it wasn’t funny. My friend was given an unnecessary blow, and it was all because I rushed.

In that moment, without hesitation, I realized what was most important to me: Life. Health. Friendship. Connection. And … slowing down.

The last year has been such a whirlwind with publishing my first book that I have developed a bit of a habit of either being overly rushed and pressured or somewhat detached and slow – probably to compensate for the stressful times. In fact, much of the last 10-15 years have been the same, for myriad reasons.

So, that was the message I was receiving loud and clear from the Universe: Slow down, focus on what matters, nurture that.

The week before, I had polled my friends about which blog they would prefer to read next, since I had two inside me competing to come out. The first was on Competitive Spirituality (which won), and the second was something I’m working on about Self-Promotion, which is still being finished because something felt off. I now realize what that was for me:

Trying to reconcile the rushed and detached states to arrive at balance; maintaining a sense of Self and presence while still engaging in marketing.

For me, Self-Promotion is about being who you are, not who you think you should be, and trusting in that. But in this noisy world of social media and 24/7 internet, cable and satellite channels, it becomes a gladiator-style arena of “fight to the death.” In this case, it’s the death of your voice, your brand, your presence – your Self. And it’s a shame, really, because there are amazing people out there, doing amazing things, whose voices are being drowned out by those who are louder, bolder, or have more money to put their faces everywhere.

And yet, it’s not. It’s not a shame, because it pushes and requires people like me to hold fast to who we are, the work we do, trusting that it is more than enough, that we are more than enough, and to nurture that. And if we do, if we hold true to our Self, and what matters most, I believe that at the end of our lives, we will reflect with gratitude and smile.

So, in the end, a fire alarm and a typo made me realize that what matters most to me is being true to myself, to who I am. It means being more deliberate and intentional in my relationships, my health, and my presence – especially with my Self. This connection is what drives me to keep working, creating, and helping others to re-connect to what matters most to them, to who they are. Too often we have lost touch with that knowing, but hopefully it doesn’t take a crisis to remind us.

Hopefully, we can get back to that by simply slowing down, making time, and re-focusing on that which makes us smile in gratitude and joy.

What I learned from Ozzy Osbourne (no, really)

I am rarely ahead of the curve on anything. I still haven’t watched a single episode of Mad Men, I have no clue why Orange Is The New Black, and the only Housewives I know are my friends who are stay-at-home moms.

So, when I started seeing all the posts on social media over the last year about the benefits of coloring as meditation, I smiled quietly inside as I heard a voice in my head say, “yup,” while my wanna-be hipster started jumping up and down like a cheerleader.

Coloring as meditation is something I have been doing for many years. I even offered it as a component of a self-care fair during graduate school. (I even got our Dean to color a mandala!) I offered it because I knew of its benefits. I suggested it because I know it as a path to self-care and inner calm. I know these things, not because of a research study, but because I had been practicing this kind of meditation and self-care for a while, and it was one of the strongest, most-beloved tools in my toolbox. But, I’ll bet you’d be surprised to learn where I originally got the idea.

Years ago – I really don’t remember when, though I imagine somebody could look it up – I watched The Osbournes on TV. It was a favorite pastime for my ex-husband and I to see what Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly and Jack were up to. The episodes always proved entertaining. I loved it. Unlike today when I barely turn the TV on, back then I had my favorite shows, and The Osbournes was one of them.

Much to my surprise, on one episode in particular I watched Ozzy pick up some marvelous looking markers from his kitchen counter and promptly sit down at a bar stool to do what looked like coloring. My brain said this, possibly out loud:

Ozzy Osbourne is sitting in his kitchen, coloring. Ozzy. Osbourne.

Perhaps he was doing original art, the camera never showed us. For me, I saw markers which meant Ozzy was coloring. And as he was coloring, I watched his whole body look calm and peaceful, even as the mayhem swirled in the kitchen around him. In that moment, I remember thinking to myself,

“God, I miss coloring!”

That sentiment was immediately followed by,

“That looks so awesome – to just sit and color.”

Soon after that episode aired I found some markers in a drawer and decided to start doodling. I enjoyed feeling the markers in my hand, watching the surge of color pour onto the page, and seeing the simple little doodles come to life in front of me. It was fun! More than fun, though, it felt good.

At the time, I didn’t explain it as something “healthy,” “meditative” or “peaceful.” Coloring was something to do that felt more productive than just watching TV. In fact, I often did it in front of the TV, which actually allowed me to slowly give up almost all TV in general. Coloring wasn’t an escape though (TV was the escape). Coloring was me moving TOWARD something… toward something fabulous, calming, and expressive. Coloring was a way for me to get in touch with myself again. What started out as a passive hobby soon became a deliberate choice.

A little while later, I found one of my old coloring books from when I was in elementary school or maybe high school. It was barely used, but it was intricate and detailed. It was what I now call an “adult coloring book.” Unfortunately, sometimes the word “adult” has a very different connotation, but there were very few other ways I could think of to explain myself. So, “adult coloring book” it was, and I started searching them out in crafts stores and online. (Thankfully both Google and Amazon understood what I meant!)

Back when I first started coloring, there were very few books available, but there were some. Not as many as today of course, but enough. I found two main resources for coloring books on Amazon and became a loyal customer. I started to build a collection.

coloring books

My collection today

I would spend hours each week, calmly sitting in a chair with my markers, coloring. I also started creating art for other people in my life to share my passion and creativity. I colored and colored, and colored some more. My collection grew, and I found myself with so many options, across so many areas of interest, that I started cataloging my work. I then went shopping for even better markers. I started playing with shading and backgrounds. I found my inner artist come to life through coloring. More importantly, I found great peace and a sense of calm as I sat and quietly filled in the empty space between the lines with deep rich color.

It wasn’t long before I started creating my own designs, mandalas, specifically, that I could color. My coloring had become more than a refuge, it was an outlet, and I loved it. I colored straight through my divorce and graduate school. It provided me with a sense of joy, creativity, and calm whenever I took my markers out. Coloring was good for me. More importantly, coloring was fun.

I could never have known so many years ago that coloring would become what it has today. I only knew that it helped me find peace, quiet, and joy at the end of my busy days. I shared it with those that were interested, and kept seeking out new coloring books that sparked my curiosity.

Turkish Mandala

©martinafaulkner.com

Today, I use coloring very deliberately, and I have clients who do the same (sometimes it’s their homework!). Recently when I noticed my stress levels had gotten unmanageably high, I pulled out my markers, sat down in a comfy chair, and I colored. Within three days of doing this repeatedly, my sleep improved and my mood lifted.

 

 

If you haven’t tried coloring yet – may I suggest you take a page out of Ozzy Osbourne’s book and find a little time in your day for this wonderful creative outlet. It just might bring you calm in the midst of chaos. At the very least, you’ll get to feel like a kid again, and there’s nothing wrong with that.