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Staring at the Cracks in the Ceiling

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Cynthia Peikoff, LCSW

Cynthia Peikoff, LCSW

Are you feeling like a rat caught up in the rat race? As a counselor I see clients in my office for one hour of their busy lives per week. They come to me with worries, dilemmas, in moods of all type. What amazes me about them is how accomplished and hard working they are. Most enjoy their chosen work. Many have lovely homes in beautiful Orange County, California. A lot of them workout regularly. On weekends, their productivity continues by taking care of shopping, cooking, cleaning, making house repairs or driving to Costco to save money buying in bulk. When kids are in the picture, after-work and weekends are spent chauffeuring, cheering at games, arranging play dates or helping with homework and enforcing discipline. I’m almost tired just thinking about their busy lives. When I ask a client, “When do you take time for yourself? To do nothing? To relax?,” most tell me they rent a video on weekends. What I’m talking about, though, is something altogether different.

If you are a devotee of The First Ladies Detective Agency books, you might recall the passage when business is slow and Madame Ramotswe is idly staring at the cracks in the ceiling of her office. She reflects on the need for taking such moments in life. In the old Africa she grew up in, idle moments sitting on a doorstep were time for reflection on life--a time for replenishing and recharging the circuits. To Madame Ramotswe, a well-lived life includes such idle time, no excuses necessary. Who would say such a thing today -- that it is enriching to the soul to do nothing? Yet everywhere we turn are self-help gurus hawking peace and contentment to over-stressed Americans. Trendy health spas and resorts charge people tons of money to help them relax. Doesn’t it seem odd that relaxation should end up costing you money? What I see is that there is too much ”busy-ness” going on.

Clients tell me they’d love to go sit at the beach for a weekend afternoon or steal a few minutes in the evening to lie on the couch and read a book. A wistful expression can be seen on each and every one of their faces when I suggest that they take such time regularly. I remember evenings when I was growing up when our family gathered in the den, talking, telling stories, doing nothing in particular. There was a cozy sense of relaxation in such unstructured activity.

So, as summer approaches, I want to recommend that you take some time to do whatever you feel like doing, just because you want to. Find yourself staring at the cracks in the ceiling and think about the Old African ways, when idleness soothed the tired soul. And try not to feel guilty about it!

If you need help, call me, and take that hour for yourself in my office. Yesterday, a client said, “I look forward to coming here because it’s the most peaceful part of my week.” I’ll help you discover how to take care of your inner self (without cds!) for a fraction of the cost of a weekend at La Costa.

About the Author...

I am a counselor in private practice in Irvine, CA. The goal of my work with clients is to help them define how to make their lives happier. We work mostly on relationship and career issues. Many seek help for problems such as anxiety, depression, panic, substance abuse, kids out of control. By integrating the information they give me, I can help them refocus their view of their problems, which leads to goal setting and planning for change. With each passing week, progress is monitored, new goals are set, until finally the client says, "I think I can cut back on sessions now." As they say goodbye, I remind them that my door is always open should the need arise once again for perspective, support and planning for change.

Last Update: 8/10/2022

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