“Take a nap?” the sweet little voice asking me is my African Grey parrot Odi. I’ve been glazed over, starring at my computer screen for several minutes and somehow she must know that I’ve re-read the same paragraph fifty times and retained nothing.
I know you’ve been there before. Trying to push through. I was in the middle of telling myself a story about how I needed to finish reading this article for my dissertation when she asked the question. “Take a nap?”
She was right. I was tired and I was getting nowhere with the work I was trying to complete. I got up, grabbed some blankets and a bolster from my closet, set up a comfy spot on the floor, closed one of the blinds, set a timer for 20 minutes, laid down, and surrendered.
Permission. I’ve been learning how to give it to myself as a hardwired go getter, achiever, and perfectionist. It’s been a long road, trips and falls along the way, and a lot of hard work to rewire absolutely everything I knew to be true about how I use my time. My system has been changing for some time. I’m getting older and my body requires different things than before. The pace I kept up when I was 22 doesn’t bring me joy now. My values have changed. And I finally decided all the pushing wasn’t worth it because I am worth more than my achievements.
Many years ago I was out for a run. As I ran around the last corner I found myself consumed by piercing stomach cramps and collapsed. Colon spasms that felt like someone was cutting my insides out. I’m not sure how long I was laying there on the pavement, but I remember realizing just how bad things had gotten. My intestines had gotten so sensitive that I was living on soup broth and even that was causing severe spasms. The doctors had me on more medication than my grandfather, I was in my 20s, and I knew it all had to do with the pressure I was putting on myself.
“You won’t live to see thirty,” said my spiritual teacher at the time. Even though his statement was extreme, I knew it was true. My immune system was crashing on and off, and I was having some serious health scares. Mysterious symptoms that doctor’s couldn’t explain. My doctor wanted me to come in for another round of blood testing for immune diseases like Lupus after I kept suffering from unexplainable monthly eye infections. It was in this moment that I started taking my power back one step at a time through permission slips. Permission to sleep in on the weekend. Permission to take a day off. Permission to say “no” when I’m already carrying a lot.
Today, I’m grateful to have good health. To feel more balanced. I still struggle. I still push sometimes. But I don’t fight like before. Instead of spending an hour debating whether I should take a nap after Odi suggested I do, I decided right then and there within a minute of the offering, that it was precisely what I needed.
Surrendering feels amazing when you’re brave enough to take it.
The shift came slowly. Gradually. Through years, moments, days, minutes, of permission slip after permission slips that I granted myself. Some took years to grant. Some took a week. Others took an hour. And these days, most take a few minutes. It’s gotten easier after time. Many of us tell ourselves an elaborate story about how we need others to give us permission.
The hard beautiful truth is that the only person that needs to give you permission is…yourself.
It can be a frightening reality to realize that the stingy hall monitor holding back permission slips from freedom is just you. I think for years I wanted permission slips from everyone else first. My husband at the time. My job. My family and friends. Society. Sometimes they even gave them to me. Often my loved ones and even my job would tell me to take a break, but I still wouldn’t grant myself the permission my soul so deeply yearned for.
I’m still a go getter today. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I still carry a lot on each given day. I thrive off of working towards my goals and seeing what I am capable of. The difference is now I listen. I listen to my body’s signals. I listen to that voice inside that tells me to slow down or say no. I listen to and honor myself. Before I tuned out, ignored, denied what I was hearing. That led to me to sitting through Arabic classes running dangerous fevers after contracting typhoid, falling face first at my desk in fatigue after contracting mono, and apparently some sort of appendicitis that I survived and only later discovered when doctor’s did surgery and found scar tissue as battle wounds of pushing.
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. When it is in balanced and I use it for good, I can achieve anything. When it is out of balance, I use it to punish myself, to push past my limits, to tell myself what’s missing versus what’s been achieved.
For this week’s Joy Tip Wednesday I want to invite you to start giving yourself permission slips.
Did I hear a long nice sigh from you? I want to invite you to start listening to that voice that speaks through your body. Through the headaches. The moments of fatigue. The start of a sniffle in your nose. The voice that says “no” that is often muffled with the other part of you that says “but I have to.” Here are some ways to start checking out where you may be denying yourself permission slips that are needed:
You tell yourself you have to complete something right now, even though you feel horrible. Is it true? Does it have to be done now? Be real with yourself. Will children starve or die? Will your house collapse? Will you not be able to eat? These are real have to do something right now problems. If things are dire, do it. If things are not dire then ask yourself, what is the real deadline for this task? So often we create deadlines that become sacred and true, only to create unnecessary suffering.
You spin the story of I don’t have time when your body asks for something. I don’t have time to eat. I don’t have time to rest right now. I don’t have time to take a walk. Maybe you’re making your expectations completely unreachable. Because traffic in DC is unpredictable, I keep food in my backpack at all times because the number of times I built in time to grab something to eat before an obligation and then had zero time are far more than the years I’ve had on planet earth. Also, rests and walks. Sometimes I only have 15 minutes between client calls, but need some rest. I lay on the floor and set a timer for 5 minutes to take a quick savasana. Or put my headphones in and walk around the block, listen to some of my favorite tunes, and come back.
Let go of your catastrophic story. You know the one you’ve spun if you actually granted yourself permission? Take a hard look at that horrible story and ask yourself if that’s true. Is it possible that your boss would fire you because you took a ten minute walk around the block? Is it true that your friend would not forgive you if you didn’t make it to her dinner party and choose to stay in and recharge with a nap after a long week?
Here’s the secret. For this to work, you have to start small. Start with granting yourself a 3 minute break by listening to your favorite song. A one minute break of sitting in total silence. A moment while you are with the kids to close your eyes and breathe one long breathe. Start small and celebrate the permission slips you’re writing along the way. It’s just one small step in front of the other that led me to huge change in my relationship with myself and others. Those small steps start today.