Refining Our Lives || By Marielle Grenade-Willis MA, LPCC

As we move into the final month of summer, I am beginning to feel that life is ramping up. I don’t know if the background anxiety I feel is occurring in tangent with a larger systemic shift such as the beginning of the school year, but I can sense an urgency to prioritize and reorganize my schedule before all of my time is swallowed up by various commitments. While I want to slow down and tune in, I feel a nudge to speed up and spread out.

I think of the coming of fall as a time when agricultural societies traditionally harvested their crops and prepared to store them for leaner months. I think of leaves beginning to droop on branches and their trees considering the right time to let them go. I think of cooler mornings and earlier evenings creating the space necessary to transition without haste. This kind of rhythm is what I yearn to attune to, and yet it feels so difficult to embody in a modern lifestyle.

Jung is quoted as saying, “[Man] feels himself isolated in the cosmos. He is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional participation in natural events, which hitherto had a symbolic meaning for him.”[1] I want to retrieve my “emotional participation” and ensure that it is being dispersed with discernment. How can I set the boundaries necessary to refine my life’s purpose at this moment in time? The origin of the word “refine” means to “bring or reduce to a pure state or a condition of purity as full as possible”. What aspects of your life can you refine so that you are rededicated to the pure intention of your heart?

Below are some practices that I use in my own life, and instead of attempting to implement them all, I encourage you to implement the one that feels most resonant.

Tips for Refinement

1. Notice how your body feels when you are requested to commit to something.

When I am at capacity emotionally and/or physically, I tend to feel anxiety when someone requests something of me. The anxiety manifests as a dropping stomach, increased heart rate, looping thoughts, or rapid temperature fluctuations. When I am feeling more available, there is a feeling of lightness, openness, and warmth in my chest and stomach. My thoughts are calm, and there is a desire to move towards the request. Observe your emotional/physical state at the time of a request, and you will know what your current capacity is.

2. Pause before immediately responding to a request.

This is one that I actively struggle with because there seems to be a cultural expectation that any communication must be responded to immediately upon receipt although constant communication is a relatively new phenomenon. I know that I am ungrounded when I respond “YES!” to a request and immediately feel resentful of the space it is taking up on my calendar. If the matter is time sensitive, I will try to say something like, “Thanks for thinking of me! Let me look at my calendar and get back to you”. If I feel unclear about what my communication should be, I will come back to it after a day or longer. Most things are not in fact an emergency.

3. Take stock of all the priorities that are already occurring in your life before committing to another one.

Similarly related to #2, it’s important to be aware of what you are already doing in the “pause” you are creating for yourself. Different commitments occur at different intervals and take up different amounts of time. Is the request a one-time commitment or a recurring one? How does the request fit into your current and anticipated daily/weekly schedule? A practice that I have lovingly borrowed from my husband is to make an itemized list of all of my commitments for the next four months and to assess how the request may or may not fit into my schedule. Many times, I have realized how “full” my life already is after this exercise even though a specific day may feel uneventful.

4. Understand your limitations.

This one is a tough pill to swallow but will save you burnout and illness in the long run. As an empath and highly sensitive person, I have learned the hard way that I do not have the same capacity as other people. If I do not carve out regular time to decompress by myself, I become exhausted and irritable. If I can get it, I need one full day a week without any commitments or responsibilities. If I can’t manage that, I need at least one evening a week without any events scheduled. Knowing what you’re capable of is the purest form of self-respect, and “NO” is a word that we all could learn to use more.

[1]Reproduced in Meredith Sabini (ed.), The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books (2002), 79-80.

Marielle Grenade-Willis is a current counselor with People House and has a MA from University of Colorado – Denver. With a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology and a background in dance, dramatic, and vocal performance, she applies a somatic and systemic approach to the individualized work of counseling. Marielle works from a client-centered, experiential, narrative, and trauma-informed perspective with her individual clients. Prior to People House, she worked extensively in nonprofits focused on animal conservation, food access, and refugee welfare; and has had her poems read and published throughout the Front Range and beyond.