This is my life five years ago. I think about the 100 things I need to do for the day, while still in bed, at 5 am in the morning. I jump out of bed and scramble to record these to-do tasks in my notebook, which becomes my Bible for the day. Without which, I am lost and directionless. I organise my life in blocks of 15 minutes, you know the drill – meetings, proposals, presentations, emails and so on.
Then it’s TGIF, thank goodness it’s Friday, right? Finally, time to relax in the weekend! What do I do? Create another to-do list.
Revise with Pete his test, exercise, clock some miles, burn some calories, measure muscle mass, read book. I have three kids, 11, 9 and 6, Pete, Finn and Sophie, so there’s ferrying them all over the island around for music, Chinese lessons and swimming.
And I wonder why do I feel tired?
I am doing my life but not feeling my life.
I am efficient, detached and task oriented automaton. I am pulled in different directions. I am fragmented. My time, energy and attention is fragmented. My life is fragmented.
Five years ago. I collapsed.
I succumbed to a rare bacterial infection. I had been vomiting and having diarrhoea for five days. I remember bending over the toilet bowl, vomiting everything out, the medicine, whatever little food I ate and seemed like I was vomiting my guts out too. My father admitted me to the hospital at 3.30 am. Dr Lee was my attending doctor. All my vital statistics are alarmingly low.
Dr Lee is a prim and proper middle aged lady, and equally task oriented as me. She said, “You’re sick. You’re very sick. If you had come in three days later, you would be dead.”
I sat in the ICU bed in the ugly blue gown, “Dead?”, as I breathed in and out. “Wait…that can’t be! I have wasted 5 days on this bizarre sickness! Now there are more things to do! Emails are piling up and I need to prepare for next week’s training. I still have places to go, a book to finish, gosh, the work is not done. I am not done!”
Then it dawned on me, “If I were to go, I can’t cheer for Pete in his swimming competitions. I can’t see Finn master reading nor Sophie running when she is just toddling around now…”
In that moment, sense of unfinished business exploded within me.
What do I do?
Create another list. I revert to my task oriented mode, as if to detach myself from the situation. I record my to-do items in my bible – check with doctor, out of office notice and my will.
The next few days, I didn’t know how my life would pan out. Like a cocoon, I was dormant. A question rang in my head,“What’s the alternative to this fragmentation?”
Thankfully I was discharged on New Year’s Eve. 11 days in hospital and 4 days in ICU. The infection has subsided with the strongest antibiotics. It felt good to be home. The simple joy of being with family was immeasurable.
My life was protected but my energy had sapped. All I could do was breathe in, pause, and out. In and out. I was holding onto the little bit of life left in me. My children were happy to see me home, and even happier that I couldn’t yell at them to do their work!
I realise that this fragment is not just me alone. A manager described it as being spun around in a washing machine. Change is faster. Workload is higher. Stress is higher. Job security is lowest. Disengagement, disempowerment and disillusionment sets in. None of this make us whole.
Beyond the individual cost, there is also a cost to the larger whole. Disengaged employees have a downward spiral on team morale, customer service, innovation and performance. Average lifespan of a company listed in the Standard & Poor 500 Index of leading U.S. companies has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to only 15 today.
Unable to run, I turned to Taiji and Qigong. Pushing my hands and shifting my weight at the feet, I thought, “This exercise? No sweat, no increase in heart rate. How is this supposed to help?” I was scoffing at it as an exercise.
One day, frustrated by the lack of “measurable” improvement, I asked my Taiji master. George is an elderly man in his 80s, he moves slowly but he speaks clearly. He said, “You are just doing the movements, but not channelling the qi.” For a moment, I felt I was Kungfu panda and he was shifu.
So for the next few weeks, I pretended to feel the qi. Then one evening when I felt utterly spent without a single ounce of energy left in me, I practiced qigong in the evening. There, I felt it, the qi. I had a second wave of energy to last me through the evening.
So, I reflected,
I was in the moment, just breathing, doing nothing in particular, my mind was empty. I felt whole. I was whole in the moment.
So I became inspired to find out more about wholeness. I was intrigued about what Eastern philosophy can offer us. I spoke to many leaders and professionals who seemed whole to me despite the challenges, conflicts and conundrums they faced. I spent the last 4 years thinking about these issues.
I have come to realise that wholeness is a sense of balance and being complete within oneself and the world around us.
Let me pause for now. Let’s turn over to you, what fragments your time, energy and attention? How does it impact your health, relationship and productivity? Do you want to be more whole? How will being more whole help you personally and professionally?