In Pursuit of What Matters

January 18, 2017

There’s a fairly well known story about a professor and a jar of rocks and a lesson about our personal values, but I only recently heard about it when I was doing a mindfulness challenge led by a fellow mom.

The story is pretty simple:

A professor stands in front of his class with an empty jar. Without saying a word, he empties a bag of rocks into the jar, filling it to the top. He then asks his class if the jar is full. His class nods in agreement that, yes the jar is full.

He then takes out a bag of pebbles and pours the smaller rocks into the same jar, shaking gently so that the pebbles slid into the empty spaces between the larger rocks. He asks his students a second time if the jar is full. At this point, they are in on the joke a bit and they laugh and nod, agreeing the jar is full.

The professor now smiles and pours a bag of sand into the jar, filling up some of the remaining space and once again asks his students if they think the jar is full. Again they agree, although he could have taken the demonstration further and added water, but he doesn’t

The professor explains that the rocks represent the big things in life — the things that are the most important like family, relationships, health, and the things that bring you great joy. The pebbles represent things that are important to you, but not as essential as the rocks. You do them often and you like them or they serve an important purpose in your life, but the pebbles aren’t the most vital parts of your life. The sand is all of the stuff that makes up your day to day actions. The sand is the “small stuff” that might be important or it might not. Mostly the sand fills up your time and keeps you busy. Think of this as errands, scrolling through facebook, folding laundry, watching youtube videos, washing dishes, or reading grumpy cat memes. Sometimes they feel important — I mean, clean clothes put away in drawers are important or so I’ve heard. I can’t speak to this from personal experience at present.

Our tendency is to put in the sand and pebbles first, leaving little room for the rocks.

The rocks, however, are the things we really can’t live happily without. If the sand and the pebbles were gone, we’d still be just fine. We’d have all of things that matter the most and that bring us the most joy and purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Like most people, it’s something I struggle with.

My rocks are my kids, my husband, my close friends, my family, being outside, moving my body in a healthy way, eating fresh healthy foods, and taking care of myself (aka self-care).

My pebbles are advocating good health and self-care for moms, teaching yoga, traveling, being creative, writing, reading, and studying, among a few other things.

My sand is checking email, sending out newsletters, writing blogs, changing diapers, picking up legos, going to the grocery store, online banking, posting on instagram, scrolling through facebook, sweeping the floor, wiping poop off of small butts, dealing with customer service, updating my website, making drs appointments, paying bills, doing laundry, washing dishes, nursing a baby, folding clothes, putting away toys or books or both, cleaning unknown sticky substances off of the floor, and so many other things I can’t even begin to list.

My jar fills up with sand faster than I want it to, even though self-care is my jam.

Even though I teach busy moms how to do the opposite.

To be honest, I felt a bit like a fraud. Here I was, promoting self-care and good health, but I felt depleted and frustrated.

So I did 2 things:

First, I re-evaluated some of my habits. I relaxed a bit on some of my habits and ramped up my consistency on others. I started to re-evaluate my priorities and reconsider how I was using my energy, as well as my time. This has helped me refine my vision, as well as rebuild my Conscious Healthy Mama signature program in a more powerful and accessible way and has also helped me lay the foundation for some other exciting self-care offerings.

I started to think about what was most important and what I needed in order to better guide my focus and attention, as well as my actions. This led me to my second step.

I decided to create a mantra.

A mantra is a tool for the mind (man is derived from the same word as “manas” which translates as “mind,” and tra refers to a “tool or a machine”).

So a mantra is a tool or a machine that can help focus or guide your mind in a specific direction. It can act as a filter or a lens; something to help you sift through the debris or to make something unfocused, more clear.

In order to create my mantra, I asked myself this question:

“How do I want to remember this time in my life?”

I asked over and over. I wrote down words that stood out and phrases that resonated. I wrote as though I was looking back at this time from several years in the future. After a few days and a few not-quite-right mantras, I came up with this:

“Share Joyful Moments to Create Magic.”

Every time I find myself doing something that doesn’t feel right or might not align with what I really want or how I want to use my energy, put on my mantra and refocus. So far, it’s helped me make better decisions for how I spend my time and hold stronger boundaries for my energy. It’s even helped me heal some of the cracks in my relationship with motherhood and myself.

I still have a lot of sand in my jar, but i’m getting clear on how I can put more of my rocks in first so that I can add the pebbles and then the sand into my jar consciously.

It’s not easy. I still struggle with sandy days and actions that don’t align with my vision of my best self. But now I have a handy tool to help me make better choices and get clear on what is most valuable to my heart.

So as you journey more deeply into this month and this year of your life, how are you filling up your jar? More sand? More pebbles? Enough rocks? Give yourself the gift of a mantra to get more clear on how to fill this time in your life.

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