I was at the beach the other day watching a glorious sunset. Breathtaking.
The waves were gently breaking against the rocks on the beach, the water was aquamarine, there were fluffy clouds in the sky catching the pink light, and flocks of birds were flying somewhere, who knows, to sleep?
A few pelicans were still fishing and would swoop and crash dramatically into the water whenever they saw prey.
Sounds sublime, huh? And yet there I sat, melancholy, and not knowing why.
Then if occurred to me. I was feeling that I ought to be feeling all kinds of spiritual and uplifting emotions. That I was connected, enlightened, with some sort of witchy incantation to the setting sun on my lips. Or standing in some sort of yogic posture with a shamanic fire burning luminously, bidding farewell to the fading day.
No, instead, I was feeling irritated and a bit restless, and annoyed with myself for wasting this beautiful moment. That I ought to be feeling or doing something different.
Ought to. Ought. Roll it around in your head. Is that word ever welcome?
The other day a client was bemoaning the fact that she felt overwhelmed by everything she had to do and it spoilt her joy and wellbeing. She worked on her business from home and had a million ideas and responsibilities that needed to be acted on.
Ever been there?
I remarked that yes, we can be overpowered with too many things to do all at once. And too many things all at once frequently means whatever we are doing, we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing one of the other many things we need to do. We never feel we are doing what we should be doing and the result is frustration about not being good enough, or organized enough, somehow.
On the same beach holiday mentioned above, I was enjoying an afternoon alone on the balcony of our hotel room, reading my kindle, enjoying creative thoughts and making notes. Then suddenly my internal voice pitched up yapping ‘you ought to be down on the beach enjoying it while you’re here! You shouldn’t be doing this stuff when you’re in this lovely setting!’ Dang. There it was again.
Ought, ought, ought. That word trying to wriggle in and spoil my peace of mind. Telling me I’m never doing the right thing—there’s always a million other things that are better, more productive, good for me. Anything but this, Sunshine!
But I caught it this time. Drop kicked it over the balcony and into the sand.
Start noticing if the word ‘ought’ comes into your thinking. It does with me, often. I’m now noticing when I feel I ought to be cleaning the kitchen when I’m sitting on the veranda. Or I ought to be thinking about lunch when I’m working on this blog. Or I ought to be taking the dogs out for a walk instead of whatever I’m doing (now that’s probably true!).
Don’t talk to me about the treadmill. I always ought to be on that.
I’m dropping that word. Or at least taking note when it rears its ugly head. Banishing it. I invite you to join me in this experiment.
Just say no to any oughts that creep in.
Instead, give yourself permission to focus on whatever you’re doing and rebelliously give it your complete attention. Sit and bask in the sunset just for the beauty of it and lounge on the veranda with a book for as long as you like and feel good about it. Have a glass of iced tea and thumb your nose at even the slightest notion that there’s anything better to do.
The irony is you’ll become more productive, more focused, feel more peaceful and able to enjoy whatever you’re doing.
I woke up the other morning feeling out of sorts. Not depressed exactly, just a feeling of restlessness, as if something wasn’t right.
Nothing especially negative going on in my personal life: dogs were well, husband happily preoccupied with his stuff, I could lose a few pounds and exercise more, but hey, what’s new?
So I had a good hard look at work. Ah, oh yes. Very clear what’s happening.
May/June in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I live, is typically the hottest, driest time of the year, so the town just clears out while most of the ex-pats head to the beach or back to the homeland. My usually busy client schedule emptied overnight. From having to juggle where to book people one week to zero the next, I was somewhat disconcerted. Either they had all left town or they all decided en masse they hated me. I’m banking on the former. Either way, my calendar was pretty spartan all of a sudden.
Plus my business and training partner had left town for a month, so no workshops planned, friends had fled, and I had been revamping my books, they weren’t ready, so no books to advertise or work on for the moment. I seemed to be in a state of waiting, my normally busy life on hold.
In other words, things had ground to a halt, or to use a better metaphor, I was in the doldrums!
I love the origin of the term in the doldrums
Do you know where this term comes from? Bear with me. It’s quite illuminating.
The word doldrum means dull and slothful. To be in the doldrums is an archaic maritime term, which refers to certain areas in the ocean near the equator. These areas are hot and humid and the wind can sometimes disappear completely, trapping sailing boats for periods of days or weeks on end. It was a sailor’s nightmare.
Kind of like San Miguel right now. This boat was stalled.
These areas were nicknamed the doldrums by 18th century sailors, because getting caught in them was so dull and boring. If you got stuck in the doldrums you would be unable to move forward; marooned at sea in the middle of the tropics. If the winds were too long in coming, you could get depressed and stir crazy; worse, you could die from thirst or hunger.
Most dreaded it more than a storm.
Can you picture it—stifling heat, unrelenting sun, absolutely no breeze of any kind, no sounds of any kind, and the air perfectly still? You could go crazy just thinking about it. Imagine getting stuck there with no way out and no idea when the breezes would start again. “As idle as a painted ship, Upon a painted ocean.”
Yes, I can imagine it only too well.
Colloquially, in the doldrums came to mean a state of inactivity, mild depression, listlessness, or stagnation—a general state of low spirits. A pretty apt metaphor for how I was feeling at the moment. There was no wind in my sails and I felt as if I was drifting on a sea of gloom without an oar. Just like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.
So, who survived the doldrums?
Sailors who kept their spirits up, their sails trimmed and their ships in tip-top-shape—that’s who. They took advantage of the quiet time to prepare themselves for the breezes. And when the wind eventually blew, they were ready. A good sailor can use the tiniest breeze to get moving and out of danger.
Who didn’t survive? The sailors who allowed themselves to sink into fear and depression, who felt disconnected, cut-off, adrift. They focused on their fear, and would sink to the bottom of the ship, drunk and depressed. And when the breezes came, they didn’t feel them and lost their chance of escape. They weren’t ready.
So, ahem, at the risk of stating the obvious…
When we feel like there’s no wind in our sails, and nothing much is happening in our lives, embrace it! Trim your sails and get your ship in order.
Clients will come back.
Workshops will resume.
Books will finally be ready for marketing.
Life will crank up and splutter into action again.
In the meantime, I’m exulting in my freedom. I’m enjoying my enforced quiet time reading, researching, writing, de-cluttering. I’m spending hours just sitting in the garden with my dogs, sitting on my roof at sunset, bingeing on Netflix (a special skill of mine), and just being. I’m in bliss. Trimming those sails…sort of.
Enjoy your summer. Welcome those slow periods in life. They can be your most productive.
Retirement can bring on a feeling of the doldrums. If you are retired and feeling at loose ends or stuck, you might enjoy my book, The Retirement Rebel: How to get your life to work, when you don’t have to available on kindle and in paperback on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D6TWXP8.
This is an updated and revised version of How to Beat the Retirement Blues.
If you like it, I’d love, no, adore a nice review. Indie writers are so dependent on reviews to get our books noticed, so your review matters. Just go to the book page and click on where it says “Would you like to leave a review?” I’ll be so grateful I’ll treat you to tacos next time you’re in town
I invite you to visit margaretnashcoach.com for more books, articles, and other sail trimming ideas you might like.