Staying Under is sometimes the best option

Credit: Johny Goeren


About a year ago, I started to write a book, A New Dawn in Ireland, about returning home after 16 years away.

I got into the swing of things pretty quickly, enjoying the ritual of writing each day and being in the state of flow.

Then, around early summer, I stopped. Abruptly.

A very close relative, my age, became gravely ill and subsequently passed away. Logically, we all know we are going to die. We know this as a fact. But we rarely face it. Mark Manson calls it The Uncomfortable Truth.

Certain moments force us to feel it. Someone of similar age passing away is one. Those who have experienced near-death live in a different way afterwards. There is a reason for that. They gain a deeper awareness than just knowing a fact.


During that summer, I stripped out any projects I didn’t need from my life. If the past years have revealed anything, it’s what is important to us. Survival first, then safety, security, health, nature, family, love and hopefully fun. The essentials.

You become acutely aware of these when life forces you to strip them back. You realise that most other things are baggage. Whether you want to carry them is up to you.

I realised during that time that writing is not (yet) one of my fundamentals. But I enjoy it and find it therapeutic.

Today, I’m picking up the bags that feel light enough, writing being one.

Strangely, I feel obligated to explain not having published to social media before I resume. Why is that?

The most important thing is to keep promises to yourself before you make promises to others.

Be gentle with yourself and accept that life ebbs and flows.


I surfed a lot in Sydney. A tiny percentage of your time is on the face of a wave. That moment, that state of flow is exhilarating yet peaceful. Occasionally, I would surf with my good friend Ken. He mostly liked to chat. The times between waves are some of my most cherished memories. Weightless on the calm water, we would have our best chats. Occasionally, when we would least expect, a rogue set would pull us below and hold us down. The worst option is to fight the wave as it wastes energy and consumes oxygen. The best strategy is to relax. Nature will allow you to surface when she is ready.

You cannot force the water clear. You need to wait until you can see your feet.

I am a planner. I like to control what I can. But I need to learn to ride whatever wave of energy or motivation comes along. And then when it dips, enjoy the downtime, or at least accept it and be patient.

That’s not to discount practices to raise our energy and motivation. These rituals and routines help sustain us. But they are not the only answer. Sometimes we need to stop, rest – and wait for the whitewash to settle before getting back on our board.

And maybe the best moments are between waves.

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James Parnell is the founder of The Wellbeing Gym, which provides online wellbeing, performance and productivity programmes to individuals and corporates.

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