Opportunity In Overwhelm

by | Oct 24, 2018 | 4 comments

I find myself in a difficult position these days. It’s a busy time of year – as is often the case, truth be told – and I’ve been sick the last week or so. This means my already robust workflow has been left mostly unattended for a while, allowing a strong moving stream to become a raging torrent.

I have meetings to schedule and essays to prepare, classes to ready for and talks to present. The online program I’m part of is now nearing it’s peak, while planning for Dharma Ocean’s Winter Meditation Intensive is in full swing. Then there’s all the email I’ve yet to get to, the household and family responsibilities wanting attention…

In many moments this feels a darn near impossible situation. There seems no way I’m going to be able to meet all these duties and demands appropriately. When I sit down to sketch out a rough sense of priorities, item after item needs attention yesterday. After a few minutes of this, my mind just freezes. Comes to a complete and utter standstill.

This is when things get interesting.

Last night, for instance, immediately after completing a live talk with the online event noted above, that impossible ‘To Do’ list came rushing back. My thinking mind tried to manage and organize all this for a few minutes, then seized under the strain. In the gap before I was able to formulate an opinion about this, the body came forth. A wordless sense of how to respond to one of the items waiting on my desk spontaneously arose. It bubbled up from the depths fully formed and, after an hour of late night effort on my part, was taken care of.

I’ve been noticing something similar today. When I locked up trying to formulate a series of emails, I tuned into the body and found myself directed toward making a phone call. When stopped cold by the notion of this weekend’s waiting workshops, a shift to the belly revealed clarity around dinner. And when my lack of readiness for a fast-approaching meeting became too much, this blog post appeared.

This is something I’ve actually witnessed before: in times of overwhelm there is opportunity. There is an opportunity to surrender my business as usual, I’m in charge management style in favour of something a little more uncertain but so much more natural and organic – something, dare I say it!?!, a little more easy.

It’s a painful curiosity that I need to be pushed deep into overwhelm before I take advantage of this – but there it is. At least I know there are some occasions in this life when I do make a shift; when I do for a few moments let the wisdom of the body lead the way.

– Neil       


  1. Thank you, Neil. In the midst of feeling your way through the overwhelm of multiple tasks, you have written an inspiring blog. Amazing how letting go of expectations allows the mind, body, emotions, and spirit to create space for opportunities to reveal themselves. May you enjoy the process of unfurling the activities you feel called to do.

    • Yes, Naome, letting go of expectations – loosening my grip just a little – seems to have such a transformative impact on the ‘revelations’ you note. Curiously, this is basically what the Buddha started his teaching life with: we suffer because we hold on.

  2. Neil,
    Thanks for this. I can relate, though mostly I tend to hold on for dear life when those opportunities arise, because they invite a step into the uncertain, towards life, which is strangely feared. It brings solace to know that the freeze response and overwhelm can and do present a pause occasion for the body’s intelligence to emerge and guide us through, addressing needs and alleviating fears.
    I am looking forward to practicing together at WMI, week 3-4.
    Best to you,

    • Hey Dan – It’s curious how intense that ‘holding on’ can get, no!?! More, sometimes I find myself holding onto thoughts and ideas that I know are untrue and / or unhelpful simply because they seem to offer a bit more certainty than the alternative! It’s sometimes a challenge, this being human…


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