We’ve had a warm sunny Spring here in the valley. Delightful, but as I’ve looked out from my desk the water level on the lake has gone down and down. All I could do was watch and wait, pondering the parallels with life.
I know what it’s like to run on empty. It’s not pleasant. A sorry state where hope is diminished and everything is a struggle. It’s hard to see ahead and fresh ideas are well out of reach.
We don’t get to this place overnight. Like our lake it’s not just a simple pulling of the plug. We’d had a dry winter and the groundwater wasn’t topped up as usual. The sun took the remainder.
Exposing what’s there
Really low water levels also show up where the leaks are. We don’t often see what’s happening at depth. Unfortunately, plugging the holes in the lake is a high cost, marginal activity and we can’t control the weather.
When we are running on empty stuff also gets laid bare. Painful and uncomfortable, but unlike our lake, this exposure can be fruitful if we take notice.
The best refilling
When the lake is low and the ground is dry, actually the worst thing is a big downpour. The water can’t be absorbed and huge damage can occur through the rapid runoff.
So what’s the best way to fill our lake? Start with gentle Welsh rain, mist that seeps into the ground one light drop at a time.
Then the ground is ready for the clouds to open and water isn’t lost or allowed to unleash its destructive power.
The same goes for us. Too much, too soon can overwhelm. We need to take small steps.
Small intentional steps
There are lots of great ‘X-step how-to’s’ around. Helpful as they are, I wonder if they start in the right place. Having been there myself and with others, I’m starting to wise up on where to begin.
We’re all so different. A positive step in the right direction for one person could be an overwhelming downpour for another.
I start to leak badly if I don’t have time on my own. I know that my ‘circle of quiet’ is crucial for me, even if it’s only 20 minutes. Someone else might leak because they are too isolated and need people and activities.
What do you really need? Do you know yourself well enough to know?
This is the starting place.
Our creativity really dries up when we’re running on empty. We do the same things in the same ways and don’t have the energy for anything else.
James Altucher has a brilliant, simple suggestion for engaging our creative gear: write 10 new ideas a day. Take anything and write a list. It doesn’t matter how rubbish it is – just stretch and play. You’ll be surprised at the result.
Find small steps to be creative. A few minutes to notice your surroundings, play with words or ideas, take a photo from a different angle. Permission to play is powerful in replenishing that part of you that other activities don’t touch.
How can you do one thing more creatively?
When I’m running on empty I feel more like a robot. I’m functioning on autopilot – usually badly, though I don’t always realise it at the time – just getting through the day.
Help is at hand! There is a wealth of really good, easily accessible material out there from Brene Brown to Richard Rohr and many, many others. Go search, take your pick.
Some of my key themes include:
- Breathe – more deeply. Running close to empty we often forget to breathe slowly and deeply enough and our brain and muscles suffer. Brian Draper’s simple practice of pause + relax + breathe + smile has been brilliant.
- Sleep – yes, I really do need enough quality sleep to function well. Be intentional: your sleep is valuable.
- Eat – well and often enough. I know I’m heading toward empty when I reach for the wrong kind of food, which gives me an initial rush but dulls my senses. What feeds you well and doesn’t have that destructive overload?
- People – healthy relationships and mutuality. When I’m on empty I often erect intentional and unintentional barriers. I’m on the frantic side of “To go faster, go alone; to go farther, go together.” I need to let people in, but not everybody. Who do you need to spend time with, who will do you good? But also what can we do as an act of kindness for someone else? This is part of our humanity too. Giving does us good.
- There is an ‘off’ button – practice using it. We collude with the thought that we can’t afford to stop, to switch off, in case we miss something important. Life is too short to be ‘on’ all the time and if we are, then our battery gets drained. Start by doing short experiments in ‘off’ mode. Build up to a real sabbath.
Create space for reflection and fresh thinking. Find the time, the environment, the inspiration that works for you.
If we carry on doing things the way we’ve always done… we’ll get the same result. Right?
This is such a big subject I’ll stop here until another time… or else read the rest of the website…
I’m so glad people are talking about the power of gratitude. When we’re running on empty it doesn’t feel like a great place to start – but it is. There’s always something to celebrate and I’ve been surprised by what happens as I deliberately practice being grateful. It shifts my perspective and tips it toward being half-full.
Where can you start? How can you make it a daily practice?
Even when we are dry and dusty there is a way up. We may have some waiting to do for things outside of our control, like the weather. But we can take small steps to ‘water our ground’.
There is hope. The fresh streams will come again.