Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing.
If you’d asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I’ve got what we call ‘zeitzvleis’ – ‘sitting-flesh’ – I can do crazy hours, concentrate fiendishly, juggle a thousand tasks and still get to 6am yoga. Except that it’s not sustainable, and really nothing to get cocky about. In this state, yoga is just another thing to do on a never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Without leisure time, catch-ups with friends, and slowing down, you get a pain in the arse (literally) from sitting in front of a computer for days on end, you’re awake at 3am checking emails and burn-out is inevitable.
So over April and May, I took myself off to a writing retreat in Italy where I was the student and didn’t have to offer a single word of advice or insight to anyone. I let myself be fed, looked after and nurtured. I had intended to write 20 000 words of my new book which my German publisher has commissioned, but after the first day in Italy, I realised, more than anything, that what I needed to do was: STOP.
Each afternoon, after our workshops and leisurely lunches of buffalo mozzarella, gazpacho, crusty bread and stuffed artichokes, I lay at the pool and I let the Tuscan sun feel me up. I skinny-dipped. I drank Aperol spritzes. I stretched like a cat. I played with a puppy called Dante.
I got space. I did not check email or Facebook. I let myself squander hours by staring into the distance until the distance stared back at me.
After that blissful week, I met my husband Zed in Florence and for 8 days, we travelled to Bologna, Lake Como and Milan before going to South Africa to see our families. We left the teenagers at home in charge of keeping the cats and bonsai alive. Other than a few campervan trips, he and I have never travelled together before. I worried he’d be the kind of traveller who wants to go to every museum, when all I want to do is sit in cafes and watch people. I feared he’d want to do touristy things when what interests me is what’s on the menu. He did insist on going to see David in all his marbled glory, but that aside, it turns out, we still really, really, really like each other. It may have even gotten a little romantic. And after 22 years together, do you get how bloody miraculous that is?
What I got, more than anything is that it’s only when you stop that you feel the velocity of the pace you’ve been going at, to quote my wise friend Ilze. And while that is what was needed for my business in its infancy, it’s a recipe for the kind of imbalance that leads to unhappiness. You have to stop. Regularly.
For seven weeks, I disconnected from all demands, requests for my time, energy and emotional input and I have put it all back into myself. During this time, I realised I have not been sleeping properly for 18 months. I have not been meditating. I realised that if I don’t really take care of myself, I cannot possibly take care of anyone else – uh, duh.
What happens when you stop, is that you remember who you are, what you love, why you are doing what you’re doing. You get to reset your barometer, get back into your body, drink enough water, exercise, breathe and bring your best back to the world, not from a space of scarcity, but fulsome wholeness.
The Japanese notion of ‘Ma’ or ‘Space’ is about giving ourselves the pauses between being ‘on’ to switch off. I now feel ready to reconnect with everyone because I have filled my own wells.
I have returned to my work, re-energized with so many exciting new plans for the rest of 2018-2019 and not one, but three writing retreats/workshop/conferences we’ll be opening applications for soon (in Sydney, Bali and Italy). For further details, just email us [email protected] as places will be limited.
Later in the year, we’ll encourage anyone who did not take part in or did not complete the 7 Day Free Writing Challenge online to do or redo it. I’ve also been hard at work designing the Author Potential Assessment – a tool which offers insight into where you are strong as a writer and where you need support.
Finally, if you are travelling at velocity and have not stopped in a while, I encourage you to find an island of time in which you can be nobody, go nowhere, do nothing, be ordinary, unexciting, uninspiring, unmotivated and even slovenly.
Please reach out to my team if there is anything we can do to help you on your writing journey.
Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?