There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open… whether you choose to take an art class, keep a journal, record your dreams, dance your story or live each day from your own creative source. Above all else, keep the channel open.
—Martha Graham

I received this quote from my wonderful coach, Ann Cheng, after our last coaching call. I had told her that my life just wasn’t working lately. I have been feeling nearly out of control (my wife says “You are completely out of control”) in trying to keep up with all the opportunities vying for my attention lately. This is what most of my friends and colleagues call “ a high-class problem”. All I know is that while I am rich in opportunities, the quality of my life seems to be pointing downward. And while I notice myself feeling overstretched, there are new invitations beckoning to which I want to say “Yes!”. And it’s just making me cranky and exhausted.

I have often joked that I am halfway to “Yes” when I get out of bed in the morning. It’s saying “No” that I have real problems with, particularly after I have already committed myself. Shedding things is not easy for me. Disappointing others is something that really bothers me. Seeing myself as indispensable is a little bit of arrogance I have that blocks me from quitting things because I think I am “leaving people in the lurch”.

I have focused so much on the power of full engagement with life to keep one’s spirit high and one’s energy flowing that I feel a bit inadequate to examine the other side of the coin. When is it too much, how shall I maintain oases of quiet reflection and spontaneous magic in my life? How shall I sustain a pace that moves me forward on my commitments and, at the same time, allows me to “smell the roses” along the way?

Coach Ann asked me two great questions. “What sources your vitality?”, and “What drains or blocks your vitality?” It hit me right away that what’s going on here is that as I get busier and busier, my vitality is actually going down. People are telling me I look tired when just a few months ago they were telling me I had a certain glow about me. I’m drinking way too much coffee just to keep going. I’m falling off my exercise routine and starting to take my meals “on the fly”. It’s time to take a good look.

What sources my vitality? 

First, a sense of purpose and coherence in what I do with my time and energy. When I am infused with purpose and making a real palpable contribution, my heart is full, my step is light, and my face beams with enthusiasm.

Second, my relationships with people. When I am open to intimacy and deep connection in my relationships and generous with my time and attention, I am filled with wonder at the magnificence of people and find myself laughing out loud at the comedy inherent in being human.

Third, certain practices keep me vital. When I exercise 5 or 6 times a week, I don’t need the coffee. I feel rejuvenated without it—and I feel positively virtuous on my way out of the gym. When I eat consciously and savor my food, I tend to lose that extra five pounds and feel better in my clothes and in my skin. When I start my mornings with a gratitude prayer and a centering meditation, I feel less scattered and much more calm as I take on the tasks of my day. When I make time to walk my dog and really pay attention to her, enjoying her excitement as I put on her leash and her curiosity about nearly everything as I set her loose on the wooded trail, I feel a real sense that all is right with the world. When I really listen to my wife, Colleen, as we have dinner together (rather than distract myself with my “to-do” list), I feel the love that we have for each other in a way that brings tears of gratitude to my eyes. When I talk to my son, Josh and my daughter, Sara, both college seniors, I feel so blessed to be their father and so fascinated by how they are evolving as young adults.

What blocks and saps my energy? 

Continuing to stay involved in tasks and projects that have lost their juice for me and represent obligation more than anything else. Just staying too long. Spending time with people that I find to be negative and cynical, rather than positive and possibility-oriented. Using my precious time on endless administrative tasks because I still haven’t taken action to find an assistant. Failing to maintain enough “white space” in my schedule to allow for reflection and recovery. Not taking any naps. Getting in a habit of busyness without a clear sense of purpose to my activities. Doing whatever pops up in front of me rather than taking the time to review what’s really important, even though no one is urging me to do it right now. I could go on, but I trust you get the point.

So I’m going to recommit myself to vitality. I want to get some more of those comments about how I seem to glow from within. I want to balance my exertions with time for recovery. I want to savor life—not just plow my way through it. I want my sixties to be the best time yet.

I’m going to start by taking an inventory. I’m going to take a close look at everything I am spending my time and energy on and ask, “Is this sourcing my vitality or draining it?” I’m going to let go of those things that are sapping me. I’m going to plug “white space” back into my schedule and consider myself fully booked when 80% of my time is scheduled, leaving the rest for just “being”. I’m going to be a bit more selective in my relationships, making sure that I devote the time to the people that really lift me up in life.

And thank you, Martha Graham. I’m making it my business to keep the (vitality) channel open…to live each day from my creative source.