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In Times of Outer-World Overload, Take an Inner Time-Out
By Marianne Schnall

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Photo by Lotus Kay, 12-years-old
When I speak to people these days, I am struck by how overwhelmed and busy we are all feeling. It seems as though our responsibilities keep mounting, as do the constant inputs that can now reach us 24 hours a day, through emails, the Internet, our cell phones, Facebook messages and more. The combination of a sense of too much to do combined with too much coming at us can leave us feeling stressed and drained. I should know: with a new book out, two kids and all my work from my freelance writing career and running two web sites, my to-do list and email in-box seem endless. Creating balance in our lives can feel just like "another thing to do." Yet it is during busy times like these that it is most important to prioritize breaks for ourselves, to remember to "be" rather than to "do" all the time, to actually be present in our lives, to pay attention to and nurture our inner worlds with just as much attention as we do our outer worlds, and carve out some quality, self-nourishing time for silence and stillness. There are many benefits to doing this, not just for our mental and physical health and well-being but for our own effectiveness in all aspects of our work and lives.

There are so many inputs coming at us at all hours of the day, and it is easy to be over-stimulated and live life on auto-pilot, operating on knee-jerk reactions, just to get things done. Yet, oftentimes it can be better in the long run to take a few centered breaths, or even wait overnight before responding to an important email that requires thoughtful consideration or reflection. Or, if you are having a problem that you just can't figure out no matter how much you dwell on it, take a break and try meditating, taking a shower or a walk in nature, and maybe the answer will come to you. It is in those moments of non-doing, non-thinking that we can often hear those important whisperings from deep within us. Creative ideas, our intuition, inner guidance and inspiration can come to us during those quiet times. No one else can do this for us; creating balance is something we ourselves need to prioritize and make time for ourselves.

It is especially important to also convey to our children the value of quiet time and the importance of "unplugging" occasionally. Believe me, as a BlackBerry addict who never goes anywhere without it, and as someone surrounded by people who live with the constant buzz, I know how hard this can be. Yet our children are becoming just as addicted as we are to their gadgets, preferring to spend hours on the Internet, on their computer games or watching television rather than in the outdoors, chatting on Facebook or sending out thousands of texts to their friends rather than seeing them in person. There are alarming studies about how all this time children spend on their computers and computer games are impacting the development of their brain and their social skills. (For more on the unique challenges facing children today and possible solutions, you can also read my recent interview with Goldie Hawn about the Hawn Foundation's innovative MindUP program.) So moms and dads should try hard to occasionally, purposefully -- if they can find it within themselves to do it -- set an example and get off Facebook and turn off their own BlackBerrys and iPhones and give their children the gift of focused time, where they are truly present, not just to model these behaviors but because we are sacrificing precious moments with our loved ones that we will never get back.No email message or Facebook chat will ever be able to live up to a meaningful conversation, a smile, a touch, a hug or a shared activity with those we love.

The world spins so fast these days, with a hurricane of news coming at us all the time creating a sensory overload, and we all have so many concerns that we have to tend to and worry about in our own lives and so many serious problems in the world that we face. And it is in times of great stress when we are in survival mode, when it is most important to stop and take a few deep breaths every once and a while, pay attention to how we are feeling, be thankful for what we have, and to enjoy life, so we can recharge ourselves and be better able to face the challenges of our lives with strength, clarity and grace. We need to pause and reflect on what is truly meaningful and ponder the mystery and magic of our lives. We need to keep in mind that technology has many benefits, but the latest technology also holds many dangerous temptations to turn us into our machines, to farther disconnect us from our natural environment and each other. Taking care of ourselves and being present for our own lives and nurturing our inner life within is one of the most important gifts we can give to ourselves, the world and those we love.

I wanted to end on this inspiring quote from an  interview I did with the very wise Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who told me this: It is very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus and find creative solutions to problems. We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.

And for more inspiration, the following quotes are taken from my book, Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice:

"You know what happens if you're completely still? Your mind -- that little tape that's running 'bup, bup, bup,' all the noise -- it eventually runs off the reel. And you have nothing left to think. All of a sudden, the answers are just there. I think we are way too busy, we are way too noisy... and we need some stillness in our lives."
--Melissa Etheridge

" I just do the best I can and try to make some balance between what needs doing and what I can uniquely do. "
-- Gloria Steinem

"I'm very lucky that I live in nature. I feel really blessed that I get to be in the wildness of nature because it reminds me of the wild parts of my mind and heart. I am grateful that I learned to meditate and do other spiritual practices starting at the age of nineteen because I can at will calm the voices in my head. That comes from having a practice, and I highly recommend it.... Those are things I do: nature and practice."
--Elizabeth Lesser

"It's been shown several times that contact with nature is actually important for psychological development. So children who are in a concrete jungle with little opportunity to learn about the natural world -- or equally, children everywhere who are glued to their computer screens and computer games -- I mean, this is becoming really frightening. What can we do about it? If you can't get the child into nature, then bring nature to the child."
--Jane Goodall

"I meditate. Sometimes I meditate by sitting, sometimes I meditate by walking... I hike a lot outdoors. For me, sometimes meditating is being on top of a mountain. But drawing inward and becoming still I think is the important thing."
--Jane Fonda

" In our modern world, things are moving so fast that I think we are all losing our balance. Furthermore, every day we are invaded by new technologies that are supposed to make our lives safer, better, more advanced—but don’t—and we still revere them as false gods. We have to stop. As women, we have these natural body rhythms, instincts, intuitions, and connections to mother earth and to each other that this fast world discounts, devalues, and obstructs. "
--Loung Ung

"Connecting with nature is really important. Unfortunately, we don't get to do it very often in the nature that is truly nature. But go to the park; I love going to the park. Whenever I'm in a city, I always go to the gardens, usually the municipal gardens, and I'll just take off my shoes and put my foot right on the ground. It does connect you in a totally different way."
--Cameron Diaz

" I think for me one of the best ways to do self-care is to surround myself with people who are real models of it and who are also really motivated to inspire me to do it. I also just think paying attention to my own body—I really am one of those people who gets up from the computer when my eyes are going blurry and my back’s hurting. And I just have tried to work on my own relationship with the idea of being productive and what that means, and honoring my need to go on a walk outside in the park… and doing yoga almost every day, because I find that that’s something that really feeds me. And just having a lot of joy and fun in my life. "
—-Courtney E. Martin

"I spend a lot of time, or as much as I can, in silence and at home.... I think all this zipping around the world is overrated. One of the things that I've learned is that I need to be more rooted, and so I've been working on that. I feel that has been so helpful to me -- to cut out movement wherever possible instead of going here and there all the time. Talking a lot less. Being much slower and much more grounded with my animals, with my friends. Staying extremely simple. Dancing more, too. Just learning to really, really love the ordinary -- that nice, well-made bowl of oatmeal in the morning and walking with my dog... just what is ordinary, what is simple and true."
--Alice Walker

" I think what you do is you learn to relax… because that’s the one time when you have time to read, you have time to reflect, you have time to nourish…. So if you are careful, if you plan your work, you do find the time to nourish yourself. "
—Wangari Maathai

"I try to put myself first. For me, I've had to do that. If I don't kind of put my own physical and emotional health first, then I'm not really useful to any movement, to any work of art, to any creative endeavor. I have to be aware -- not selfish and self-absorbed and self-obsessed -- but I have to be self-aware of what my needs are and be willing to take care of my own needs."
--Kerry Washington

Excerpted from Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice by Marianne Schnall. Copyright © 2010. Excerpted with permission from Blue Mountain Arts. Portions of the above originally appeared in Marianne's monthly radio commentary for 51% The Women's Perspective.

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, In Style, CNN.com, EW.com, the Women's Media Center, and many others. Marianne is a featured blogger at The Huffington Post and a contributor to the nationally syndicated NPR radio show, 51 percent The Women's Perspective. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women's web site and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice based on her interviews with a variety of well-known women. Marianne's forthcoming book, "What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power" will be published by Seal Press in Fall 2013. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.


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