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  • Elise V Allan

Overwhelm: Time and Rhythm


“I’d love to start but I feel overwhelmed.” “When I think of it I feel sick.” “There’s just too much happening.”

I’ve had the opportunity to coach clients who were struggling with the pressures of trying to fit creative projects into lives that are already full.  For some, thinking about what they want to do takes them into a state of overwhelm where everything they have to deal with is swimming around in their heads and it feels impossible to pin anything down or get started. They feel their resistance but also know that they’re dealing with reality; available time is limited, whether because of jobs, or family, or education.

Then I found myself in a position of experiencing overwhelm when several opportunities arrived simultaneously.  I was reminded, from the inside, what it feels like. It feels tight. I had to work with it on more than one level. First of all, I got my system calm again; my meditation practice – and teacher - supported me in this. Then I assessed how much time was available to fit everything in, drawing up an outline with the number of hours available each day. Time was too limited to do everything as well as I’d like to, but I tried setting a pace and rhythm that didn’t send me back into shallow breathing and a racing mind.

With clients too, acknowledging the facts is essential; how much time can realistically be made available for their creative projects without over-doing it and heading for burn out. For one client, we worked out that just thirty minutes a day is realistic for the time being. It sounds like very little, but by then I knew how successful this strategy could be, because another client has only had forty-five minutes a day for her practice over the last year; she has a job and two young children.*

In the year she has written and illustrated a book, produced a folio of images, and kept Instagram up to date with her work. The regularity of her rhythm, along with her positivity, has kept her going. No daily decision – and decisions are exhausting – about whether to make work each day. There is a slot in which it happens, like a drum beat.

Rigid timetables can be stifling, but rhythm, just as within music, gives our lives structure and forward movement. We have rhythm when we drum, walk, breathe, dance, and eat, all without complaining that the rhythm is stifling or limiting. Surrendering to rhythm in a day supports improvisation.

But pace, too is important. Drumming fast is unsustainable unless we have a level of expertise that prevents us from straining our wrists. Trying to run faster than usual for more than a short time will leave us out of breath and aching, just as trying to eat faster than usual will give us indigestion. For my situation, one of the opportunities was too good to rush it. I was able to change the deadline to a later date, and I’m now enjoying working for it at a pace that suits my system.

The spaces in the rhythm are as important as the drumbeats. And the stopping can be beautiful when we take time to absorb and digest the music. In those moments, if we choose to give ourselves to those silences, time can seem to expand and contain infinite spaciousness. For a moment.

*Coaching is confidential; thank you to the client who has allowed me to share this.

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