I heard a new word this week and was blown away by it.
I was rereading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg and came cross the German word “Zerrissenreit”, translated to mean “torn to pieces hood”. I repeated it over and over to myself and as it landed deep within me, I thought it might be the most descriptive a word I have ever read.
Or perhaps it is just so damn relatable.
Maybe not everyone would be moved by what it means to inhabit a state of being torn to pieces.
But I certainly am.
And I imagine that some of you are as well.
In her 1955 masterpiece, Lindbergh laments that a “woman’s life is tending toward that and that she “cannot live perpetually in Zerrissnereit, She will be shattered into a thousand pieces.”
And here we are over 66 years later, many of us feeling the same thing.
We are tired, over-scheduled, stressed out and as a result often disconnected from our essence. We are, according to the
magnificent author and poet David Whyte, besieged.
He writes that most of the time people feel besieged by “events, by people, by all the necessities of providing, parenting or participating..” He recommends that when we feel the sensations of being “crowded, set upon, we should find a way to slow down, be alone and stop the “doing-ness…to begin the day not with a to-do list but with a not to do list, a moment outside of the time-bound world in which it can be re-ordered and re-prioritized…Creating a state of aloneness in the besieged everyday may be one of the bravest things” individuals can do for themselves.
What would it take for us to truly re-prioritize? To reconsider the“need” to do one more thing than we think we can handle?
This overdoing has always been my achilles heel and I have struggled to keep the pride that sometimes accompanies exhaustion, in check.
As I age, I am becoming a little better at looking more closely at my motivation for saying yes to everything and insisting on doing everything for everyone, without ever focusing on myself. I am a work in progress in this arena.
I loved reading that Gandhi took a day off every week to sit and do nothing. He explained that by doing so, he was more confident that his actions would arise from the wisdom of this heart.
This is reason enough for me!
Whether we are besieged, or torn to pieces, by having too much to do, too many people to care for, too many responsibilities and demands and not enough time for ourselves, it is up to us to make some shifts in our lives as well as in our inner worlds.
Where do we begin?
Greg McKewon’s book on Essentialism is a great starting point. He cuts to the chase about overwhelm and exhaustion, suggesting that we need to start by pausing and asking ourselves whether we are investing in the right activities? He teaches that we don’t need to get more things done; only the right things done and that prioritization is paramount. “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead, it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many…
Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution to the things that really matter.”
So, back we come to the most fundamental inquiry: what really matters?
I really like the line from Essentialism asking that we deliberately distinguish the vital few from the trivial many…
My vital few are my family, my purposeful work with clients, my health and my intellectual, spiritual and personal growth.
What are your vital few?
In Gift from the Sea, we are urged to “consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today” such as quiet alone time, contemplation, music or prayer.
In the words of Anne Morrow Lindberg, “what matters is that one be for a time, inwardly attentive.
To that I say, Amen!
It is the attention inward that has been my saving grace.
I used to think that slowing down was lazy, unproductive and self-indulgent. Who’s going to get everything done that needs to get done, I would ask myself, proving my worth at the expense of my sanity.
Covid taught us a thing or two about slowing down, limiting our activities and focusing on what really matters. But we are moving back into the world, excited at times at the prospect of being as busy as ever but also wary of being sucked back into the vortex of doing, doing, doing.
Trust what you tasted these last two years. You don’t have to do every single thing on the list at rapid speeds.
We know that “torn to pieces hood” is unhealthy and unmanageable.
Move in the direction of doing less, slowing down and discovering the power of being alone.
This poem by Martha Posthlewaite says it all:
Do not try to save
the whole world
Or do anything grandiose.
Instead create a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
And wait there patiently,
Until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself to this world
so worth of rescue.
Do not become shattered into thousands of pieces.
Create a state of aloneness.
Write a what not to do list.
Distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.
And settle into the clearing that is the dense forest of your life.
I will meet you there.
With love and light,