Meditating at Traffic Lights


My current read is Thrive by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post.

I came across this unassuming looking paperback in an airport bookshop while waiting for my cousin to arrive from the USA recently (he is from Ireland, which is another story). The name on the cover drew me in. I don’t buy a lot of books; I am fortunate to have a steady supply from friends and family.

The opening chapter begins thus:

“On the morning of April 6 2007 I was lying on the floor of my home office in a pool of blood. On my way down my head had hit the corner of my desk, cutting my eye and breaking my cheekbone. I had collapsed from exhaustion and lack of sleep. In the wake of my collapse, I found myself going from doctor to doctor, from brain MRI to CAT scan to echocardiogram, to find out if there was any underlying medical problem beyond exhaustion. There wasn’t but doctors’ waiting rooms it turns out, were good places for me to ask myself a lot of questions about the kind of life I was living.

We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. I was on the cover of magazines and had been chosen by Time as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. But after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted?”

Self-help books have guided me through the maze of juggling responsibilities of family, self and fulltime work throughout my adult life. One of the best things I have ever done was to find yoga, which I did in my early 30s. Though I sometimes think it found me.

As Huffington quotes in her book: ‘My heart it at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me’ (attributed to Imam Al-Shafi’i, an eighth century Muslim jurist).

Huffington was invited to partake in the annual festival of innovative and creative thinking – titled Ideas at the House – at the Sydney Opera House last year. Her conversation with local journalist Annabel Crabb from that visit is available on YouTube.

One of the things that struck me about the interview was her admission that writing was accidental in her life, a case if it finding her. A publisher attended one of her talks when she was president of the Cambridge University Union (where she was a student). He was so impressed by what he heard that he invited her to write a book.

I have put together my top 15 survival techniques, gleaned from a myriad of advisers (professionals, family members and friends):

  1. Avoid emails and social media first thing in the morning

A friend who runs a very successful business from home confessed that she checks her emails as early as 6am (and she doesn’t sometimes switch off until 6pm). It is tempting to check in on the world when it is only a click away but more important to check in on ourselves first.

  1. Start the day with a pause

I meditate before I get out of bed every morning, even if it is only 5 minutes. It is a way of checking in with myself, keeping the ‘busyness’ of the day ahead at bay for a little bit longer.

  1. Schedule device free time into your day

You don’t always have to be online, available. Even 15 minutes can give you enough time to refresh, to recalibrate, and to check in with your whole self.

  1. Pack your trainers and your lunch box

I take my gym shoes to work and walk down to the park in my lunch break (usually with a book in hand). Even the act of putting the shoes on puts me into a slower gear.

  1. Meditate at traffic lights

This sounds dangerous I know, but of course I am referring to when the lights are red and the car is in neutral! I try to seek out a detail from the vantage point of my driver’s seat while the car is idling – the changing sky, the wind rustling the trees. And I keep my phone in the car boot (fortunately it is only a short drive to my day job so I get to check messages in the carpark when I arrive)

  1. Slow down. Stop multitasking. Allow time for doing things mindfully.

I touched on this in item 5 above. Driving in peak hour in city traffic is enough for me to deal with!

Huffington also covers this beautifully in her book:

“Mindfulness…cultivates our ability to do things knowing that we are doing them”.

I have found that concentrating on one task at a time is a lot more satisfying than trying to achieve multiple things at once with fragmented attention. Ironically I find, as Huffington did, that if I slow down I get more of a sense of accomplishment. All of me is committed to the task. I am more efficient. There is a defined ‘start’ and ‘finish’ hence the task is finite, complete.

  1. Trust yourself and be kind to you

My podiatrist Mary has 5 children, works fulltime in her own business and she is studying part time – to achieve further accreditation in her field. When I asked her does she ever get overwhelmed she says YES! But then I asked – does she always get what she needs to get done? To which she answers yes.

My point is, if we trust in ourselves, what needs to get done gets done. She admits to delegating jobs to her husband and her children, even getting her daughters to assist in the office. A sensible approach! (because she is a wife / mother / businesswoman doesn’t mean she has to try to do it all)

  1. Stop checking the time

I make a point of not checking the time at the end of the day when it is nearing time for bed. Also when I wake during the night. Then I am not stressing unnecessarily about how much sleep I am getting. I try to do the same when I am driving to work. I already know the journey will take me about the same time every day.

  1. Engage in a physical activity when you get up in the morning

Even one yoga stretch when you get up – I recommend dog pose / downward dog – can connect you with the rest of your body. You will benefit from the increase in circulation if nothing else. I can’t imagine a day without yoga. My easily wired up body and mind needs it!

  1. Restrict access to emails and social media on your phone

My friends Kate and Liz choose not to have access to their personal emails on their cell / mobile phones. They find it too distracting. They prefer to check once or twice a day on their laptops or Ipads, and they schedule a time for this. A colleague in my day job who is addicted to Facebook constantly checks her account on her phone, a sad diversion from the vibrancy of here and now.

  1. Phone a friend or family member

I don’t do enough of this. It is so easy to send a phone message or email. But there is nothing more rewarding than having a conversation with someone.

  1. Elephants are eaten one mouthful at a time

I can easily get overwhelmed in my day job in operations. I have taught myself – (or more accurately, am still teaching myself!) that only here and now matters. What helps I find is that if I do whatever it is that I have been putting off (maybe because it is not a task I enjoy) first thing it frees me up enormously. Similarly I try to ‘pollinate’ each task – ie do little bits of each one instead of trying to complete it before the next unscheduled interruption. Hence the work load is kept under some control.

  1. Write it down

Of course as a writer I am always going to espouse the merits of writing! But this fact aside, it can be cathartic to get our thoughts and worries on paper, in black and white. The act itself provides a sense of letting go of the issue or concern.

  1. Limit your exposure to news bulletins

When you think about it there is hardly ever any good news on the news! My Irish cousin (see above) calls the nightly news bulletin ‘the daily death notices’. I limit my own exposure as I find I expect bad news. Worse – I can become immune to it. I believe that we will find out what we need to find out one way or another.

  1. The importance of rituals

For my family this is the nightly meal. Very rarely will we eat in front of the television.  In fact this is very much considered a treat in our house. Our son isn’t allowed to bring his phone to the table. We actually have to sit there and talk to each other – or not talk as the case may be. It is a highly valued punctuation mark in our day.

Rites of Passage


My son graduated from his all boys high school 3 weeks ago. The ceremony was held in the school hall we had visited for formal events over the past 6 years. As on the previous occasions there were competing scents in the air: deodorant, hair spray and a hint of body odour.

On this particularly cool grey day in early spring a hushed anticipation prevailed. A freshly ironed group of boys and their parents/family had gathered to honour those who got them this far on their journey and to say goodbye to their school. Feet scuffling, programmes shuffling. We were seated as if for a wedding ceremony – boys on the left side and the supporters and teaching staff on the right.

The jostling and fidgeting stilled to silence when a student – the MC – walked to the spot lit podium to commence the formalities. His natural smile and ability to draw us in to the moment belied his young years.

A boy from the graduate year softened the atmosphere with a jazzy number on his saxophone, his music teacher accompanying him on the keyboard. I admired his focus and ability to act so professionally amongst his peers. The year coordinator took the stage next. Small in stature, he looked even smaller in his suit and tie. He shook with emotion as he thanked the students for teaching him so much in the 6 years that they shared together. They replied with a standing ovation. I was chastened to see these boys-to-men showing respect for someone almost half their size and nearly 3 times their ages.

There was a palpable absence of grandparents, many boys – like my son – having lost both by now. And a diversity of cultures represented in the group, not unlike an international flight arriving at Sydney airport. Though perhaps a little more orderly!

As I scanned the hall I noticed a spark of excitement in the eyes of boys who I had watch turn into men during this chapter of their lives. I had fed and tucked into bed a handful of them when they were as young as 5, and now they towered over me with thick biceps, booming voices, whiskered chins and ‘comb over’ hairstyles that had taken up to ½ an hour to assemble that morning in their bathrooms, family members no doubt knocking on the door and telling them to hurry up (as is the norm in our house).

Formalities over, polite mayhem ensued as we all spilled out into the driveway. Coffee and tea stations had been set up in the time we were inside and budding chefs in their chef’s jackets and checked pants proffered professional looking morsels to the hungry chatty crowd. It was an impressive finale for this modest government school. I sought out teachers I knew to thank them for their support. Hands were shook, hugs exchanged.

Afterwards as I drove back to my day job I was accompanied by vivid memories of my own school years. Then I thought of my son’s first day of preschool, primary school, high school. I stopped the car next to a park to contemplate these juxtaposing images in my head. Before driving off again I silently paid homage to those markers of time passing, allowing the space for his next move further away from our tight knit family of 3.

Being a parent is about letting go of your child’s growing phases, their rites of passage, even when you aren’t ready for them. As adults we know too much of the big world. Our instinct is to shelter our offspring, to keep them safe. We know there will be heartache, disappointment, failures. But there will also be joy, fulfilment, success and hopefully love to be reciprocated.

This post is dedicated to all those mothers out there who, like me, just want to hold their children close and whisper into their pear shampoo scented hair: it will be ok.

#ritesofpassage #graduation