'Drowning in the chaos of too many demands'?

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 11, 2004

Fatigued and overwhelmed to the point of total despair, she cried out: "Help me, God! I don't know what to do. I don't know how to live like this."

Linda Kavelin Popov, renowned cofounder of The Virtues Project and author of The Family Virtues Guide: Simple Ways to Bring Out the Best in Our Children and Ourselves, was no longer bringing out the best in herself. Her power of concentration had virtually vanished. The simple act of breathing took conscious effort. Her life was out of control.

Readers of this column are familiar with Linda's many positive contributions to our chats. The Gulf Islands resident has been a regular at our coffee table, often challenging us "to create virtuous reality by doing something to show that we care."

But showing that we care includes filling our own cup, something Linda had ignored, to her peril.

In 1994, the United Nations had recognized The Virtues Project as a family life model for peoples of all cultures. Over the next three years, Linda was on the road non-stop with speaking and workshop commitments, and taking no time for herself. She was running on empty and barely realized it.

She crashed hard.

When Linda was 11, she had contracted bulbar polio. Now, over 40 years later, the symptoms returned with a vengeance: post-polio syndrome. At its worst one morning, she writes, "I plunged into a dark inner place of hopelessness and fear."

She was finally ready to trade in the frenzied pace of an unsustainable lifestyle for a pace of grace.

She cried to God for help.

And a clear inner voice responded: "I will give you ten rules for health. Write them down and follow them."

In summary, here's what she wrote down:

  1. Purity and cleanliness
  2. Pranha ("breathe")
  3. Proper vitamins
  4. Proactive rest
  5. Pace yourself
  6. Pray every hour
  7. Pursue peaceful activity
  8. Play!
  9. Prioritize
  10. Plan a sustainable life

A year later, after putting the rules into practice, she was well on the road to recovery. She shares her story and lessons learned in an important new book hot off the press from Plume (Penguin Group).

A Pace of Grace: The Virtues of a Sustainable Life provides a refreshing, practical approach to balanced living that any of us in our fast-paced world will do well to pause and consider. (Check out her web site: www.paceofgrace.net.)

Linda's style is candid, reflective and inspiring. She has organized the book according to four principles for healthy living – Purify Your Life, Pace Yourself, Practice the Presence, and Plan a Sustainable Life – and complements her own story with the experiences and insights of many others from across a wide range of spiritual and cultural traditions.

Linda cautions readers not to attempt this approach to personal sustainability with "teeth-gritting determination." We are already "drowning in the chaos of too many demands," she says. Rather, what is required is "a gentle shift in your spirit." She regards the virtue of moderation as her "new best friend."

"Take your time. Keep a pace of grace. Fill your cup and you will have an overflowing sufficiency to give to everyone you love and anything you do."

Linda's advice reminds me of a song by Donovan in Franco Zeffirelli's 1973 film on St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon:

If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends.
Heartfelt work grows purely.

If you want to live life free,
Take your time, go slowly.
Do few things, but do them well.
Simple joys are holy.

A Pace of Grace will help many of us reclaim our lives "slow and surely." Or to put it as Linda did for me on the phone the other day, here is a method for developing a "routine of reverence," essential for all who want to live life free – to live a pace of grace.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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