Stay unproductive. At least for a little while.

On April 23rd, my father died of lymphoma he could no longer fight. 

“There are few people in this world who leave an indelible mark,” a friend wrote to me, “such that when you reflect upon their essence you can actually see their smile, hear their voice and feel their presence as though they are there with you in the moment. Your father is among those few.”  Every single encounter with him always left you feeling better about yourself. 

The world feels like a lesser place without him. I miss him.

And still, I can feel him more now than ever. Maybe because I miss him? It seems like, when he died, his energy didn’t disappear or dissipate, it dispersed. 

If you eat a cookie, it’s gone. His energy though – like love or a candle flame – only grows and expands when it spreads. I’m deeply grateful that I have some. So are most people who knew him. I can feel his energy now, as I write this. A growing part of me.

All that said, even with the sweetness of his presence, I find myself a little lost. I’m scattered. Unfocused. Struggling to be productive. To move forward on anything in a meaningful way.  

I don’t like that feeling.

And so I can feel my instinctive drive to push through it. To plan and to-do list and schedule my way to productivity and achievement and forward progress. I want my momentum back.

I also have an opposing instinct, one that feels deeper, more profound, scarier: Stay unproductive. At least for a little while. Feel the sadness, the loss. Sink into the discomfort of not moving forward, not getting things done, not progressing.

I’m talking about a very personal loss and the deep sadness I feel with it. But I’m hearing other people describe similar feelings, living in this global experience of change and loss – loss of the normal, the habitual, the everyday routine. Maybe you feel some of the same as well?

Somehow, in this moment, I think unproductive is important. I think it’s what I must feel – maybe what we must feel – to allow for growth. To allow ourselves to pass through the liminal space, to linger with a question that this moment begs me to ask:

How will I let myself be changed?

Not how should I change. Or how will the world change (and consequently how must I change to keep up). And certainly not, how can I not change and preserve the way things have always been.

I’ve heard a lot of us asking those questions over the past few months. I’ve asked them all myself. But those are questions of survival and stagnation disguised as questions of change.

While I am instinctively drawn to ask those questions, they miss what can be magical and truly transformational about this moment. They miss our real opportunity.

Given everything I am experiencing and all of who I am, can I let myself be moved and touched and changed by this moment? Will I allow this change in my world – deeply personal and vastly global – to wash over me, shift my worldview, change me? Not from a place of discipline or drive, not from a self-directed, strategic, goal-oriented place, but from a place of openness and vulnerability. Not from willfulness but from willingness.

And in that pause, can I listen without defense – inside and outside – to the voices I hear and the nudges I feel? And, finally, can I find the courage – emotional and physical – to follow my impulses, step by step, toward what I think may be true. At first, I wrote “what I know to be true.” But I don’t know what the future holds. There are risks. Which is why I feel scared. 

But I long to be willing – I’m seeking – to be molded by the loss I feel from my father’s death and the grace with which he lived his life. I feel sadness that I will never see his smile again or feel his strong, tender hands on my back. And I also feel excited that I can begin – in small ways – to feel my own smile, my own hands, showing up in new ways, more generously, more tenderly, more strongly.

My very personal loss is accompanied by a tectonic shift in the world. By sheltering in place and slowing down, by living closer to some and much farther from others, by sickness and death and also intimacy and caring.

Living in this moment is new for me. I imagine it’s new for you. It’s new for each of us in unique ways. Can we allow ourselves to be changed?

I have so much to learn, so many ways to be changed. I feel myself cling to what I have known and what has kept me safe. I can also feel myself gingerly loosen my grip on the security of what has been and, then, with my newly freed hands, reach for what’s to come.

I hope you can be here, with me, in this space for a little time, as we allow ourselves the time and grace to figure out who we are becoming.

 

Comments

  1. Babar says:

    Dear Peter,
    Please accept our sincere and heartfelt condolences on the tragic death of your beloved father.
    May the Almighty bless the departed soul with eternal peace and grant fortitude to you and the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss.
    With profound regards,
    Babar Baig

  2. Dear Peter:
    Your story is ever so touching. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us during this time of your grief. We will become who want to truly be, and sometimes monumental tragedies such as what you are experiencing is the catalyst.
    Knowing you at this time is a gift.
    May you stay forever blessed,
    Rose-marie Fernandez

    1. Thank you Rose-marie

  3. Raju V says:

    Heartfelt condolences, Peter, on your father’s demise. May his soul rest in peace.
    May you continue to inspire more people including me.

  4. Srinivasan G says:

    Please accept my sincere and heartfelt condolences on the tragic death of your beloved father.
    Request you to read this article
    http://www.dailygood.org/story/2223/the-geography-of-sorrow-tim-mckee/
    Warm Regards
    Srinivasan.G

  5. Tunisa Toju-Igbene says:

    Dear Peter,

    Thanks for sharing this. I am recovering from Malaria at home in Nigeria and haven’t been feeling very productive for some days. Reading your article this morning gave me the boost to my energy I have been needing for a while now.

    So sorry about your father. I believe he is definitely in a better place. He definitely lives on in you as well. Please stay strong.

    1. Thanks Tunisa – I wish you a very speedy and full recovery.

  6. Chris Giffin says:

    Peter:
    Your fathers passing has given us all a wonderful parting gift with this heartfelt message.
    I also believe the soul remains with us for a period of time and won’t leave until we are able to let them go.
    Until then know you will be moved and touched by this personal losses as I was when I read your message.
    Chris

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Chris.

  7. Olivia Melosi says:

    Sorry to hear about your father, Peter. I lost my uncle-in-law last year after working very hard to help him get better, and I remember also having the feeling (thought? instinct?) that I should lean into the pain and sadness. It felt a bit counterintuitive, but I gave into it. I believe that by letting myself feel the full weight of my grief and letting it have its place, I was able to process the loss in a healthier, richer way. God be with you and your family at this time.
    My regards,
    Olivia Melosi

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Olivia – I’m trying to do the same . . .it’s not easy but it is good.

  8. Craig Abbott says:

    Hi Peter, you have been a source of inspiration for me for many years and I’m sure your father had a great influence on your life. I lost my father last year at this time and felt the a sense of “What now?” I have found that I can lean on the memories of times spent with him and how he might advise me in difficult decisions that I make. This has been a great peace for me and I hope you may find peace as well through this time.
    Sincerely,
    Craig Abbott

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      thanks Craig!

  9. Teresita E. Vigan says:

    May God comfort you and the loved ones your Dad left behind at this time.
    Thank you for your candor in expressing your thoughts and feelings upon losing a beloved. You inspire and challenge us to stay firm on the ground yet still dream and fly high to fulfill our purpose in life.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      I love what you wrote Teresita – thank you.

  10. First – my heart aches for you in losing your dad, Peter. Losing a parent is devastating and indeed disorienting. For a long, long time.

    I also smile for you. You dad sounds like a wonderful man and what greater gift can you have in life? A gift that you never lose. As someone said to me after my mom died, “You will never lose her. You just won’t get any more of her.”

    Finally, I need to tell you how moved I am but what you’ve shared here. You capture so much of what I’ve been feeling; your words, so beautifully chosen, will stay with me. “Not from willfulness but from willingness.”

    I wonder if your “newly freed hands,” rather than reaching for what’s to come, aren’t rather being open to what’s to come? It’s a different place to stand, isn’t it? And how easily the gravitational force of past habits and mindsets pull at us….

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection. And may you be well.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Hi Nan – so lovely to hear from you. And yes, I love that – one to what’s to come!

  11. Jeff Smith says:

    Peter-I am so sorry for the loss of your father. I am very close to my Dad and I am blessed to have him with me. As I read your reflections, I could feel the ache in my bones thinking about the day he will not be here. Your reflections are a blessing to me and others. You father sounds like an amazing man and I know his energy and insights will continue to be with you always. Peace be with you and your family during this challenging time.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Jeff.

  12. Allan Spinner says:

    Dear Peter,
    I knew your father or not as well as I would have liked to have known him and I know you. Your world has changed and will never be the same and you will change too. The change in your life has been cataclysmic. You will better be able to recognize the things that are really important in your life.

    My condolences to you, your mother and your brothers and everyone else who was dear to your father.

    Allan & Joan

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Allan – sending lots of love to you and Joan and your family.

  13. OM JAI JAI SAI MAA
    Dearest Peter,
    Becky sent me your message, and as always, I am touched and inspired by how you express yourself, look at yourself, share personal insights that serve so many. Yes, for you and everyone, this is a time for going within, “taking time”, becoming more aware of ourselves and learning to create and take action in new ways. So important as you say: willingness, openness, vulnerability, ALLOWING. So many lessons and opportunities. Great blessings to you, your whole family, to your father’s soul on its journey. I’m living in our ashram in India, since January, and would love to speak to you. (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime …?) I’ll send you my info on WhatsApp. Love Love Love, Swamiji

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Swamiji – SO nice to hear your voice. Yes, please reach out – it would be great to talk. Sending love.

  14. Lindy in Western Australia says:

    Sincere condolences Peter.

    How will we let ourselves accept the necessary changes, indeed? Slowing, being still and contemplating the values of here and now. Let’s hope we don’t get dragged back into the meaningless motions of three months ago! Well not without choosing it!

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      agreed!

  15. JAMEEL RIZWANA HUSSAINDEEN says:

    Sincere condolences to you and the bereaved family Peter. I can feel deep down all the sorrow, pain, your state of mind, the flowing tears as you type your words describing the connection, love, soulful relationship and the beautiful memories that you had with your father. May the transcendence of the beautiful soul of your father keeps reminding and guiding you of the purpose, meaning, and the mission of your journey on this planet. Your writing has touched me so deeply and has now allowed me to stay in this moment with willingness – knowing that the future is uncertain and all that we have is this moment to connect, love, share our emotions, let go of the emotional baggage, and feel soulful and beautiful with all imperfections and vulnerability in its grand openness. Thank you once again for all the noble work that you do and we continue to look forward to you leading with Emotional courage! Stay blessed.
    Rizwana from India

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Rizwana – you write fro the heart and I’m touched.

  16. Chuck Bell says:

    Sending my condolences on your father’s passing, and my thank you for your insightful post. I announced my June 30 retirement last December, having no idea that a pandemic was only weeks from touching our lives. I’m rethinking my post-retirement plans and your thoughts prompt me to continue to reflect on what I want my next chapter to look like.

    1. Glad to hear it Chuck – a good time to reflect for all of us.

  17. William Snagge says:

    My most sincere condolences too, Peter.

    I lost my father four years ago. Allow yourself lots of time. Its also fine not to know..

    As above, your work is an inspiration and source of light for so many of us. It has kept me going at some very dark times.

    Yes, allow yourself to be moved and touched and changed by this moment.

    1. Thank you William – I’m touched by your appreciation – thank you.

  18. Laurie H. (Canada) says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful reflection and the important questions you pose. I always enjoy your approach and writing (and took your coaching workshop at Kripalu a couple years ago and loved it!) but this particular article made me pause and reflect at a deeper level. You have captured something important and authentic and real. Thank you for sharing and I wish you comfort and strength as you navigate this crossroads.

    1. Hi Laurie – thank you so much and so nice to hear from you. I hope you’re well!

  19. Noriko Tani says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Peter. In Japan, we believe a person’s spirit stays for 49 days after death. Your father is supporting and protecting you, your family, and the friends right now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m inspired. Please take care. I’m looking forward to hearing how you are doing in your future notes. Noriko

  20. Ajit says:

    Hello Peter,

    Accept my deepest condolence. I have been an avid reader of your article and books. You have inspired many people like me.

    This article touched me as I have lost my father 2 years ago. I am still a bit disoriented from the loss. I think more with some sense of guilt that I should have been with him more than what I could manage.
    Hope you find strength from his memories and inspire more people.
    I am sure he is looking over you. In India we have a belief that parents never leave us … they become part of our being.
    Take care.

    1. I do feel that way about my father – thank you.

  21. DAVALENE L LIVINGSTON says:

    I have been thinking of my father and mother who passed on long ago, as the stats climb and losses mount with the pandemic; and even though your father’s passing was not a result of this but from another health issue, it is a time where you and many of us can and are reflecting on how our lives are being stirred to a new level beyond the “normal” routines that we were almost bound to obey.

    Blessings to you Peter and to all that knew and appreciated your father and his influence in your lives.

    Just before reading your article, I was reading Wayne Dyer’s book Change Your Thoughts — Change Your Life. (From pages 244-245) … as the Indian saint Muktananda lay dying, his devotees are said to have surrounded him, pleading, “Please don’t leave.” Muktananda replied, “Don’t be silly — where could I go?” The great swami realized his true essence and knew that he was at an end without ending.

    After reading that page I closed the book and within a half an hour I was reading your reflections. It is about being more present and even this sadness has a peacefulness to it.

    1. Thank you Davalene – I love your reflection.

  22. Steve Pink says:

    Peter,
    The older I get the more I believe in the importance of two words…Legacy and Purpose.
    Your father has left a wonderful legacy in many ways I’m sure. The one I’m clear about is his impact on you and helping you to become the man that you are.
    Your Purpose is clear. Right now the fulfilment of it may be on hold but take as long as you like, we will all still be here when you’re ready.
    Big hug
    Steve

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you so much Steve – I Loe what you wrote: take as long as you like, we will all still be here when you’re ready. It touches on a vulnerability in such a comforting way for me. thank you.

  23. Eduardo Juan Serrot says:

    My deepest condolences Peter

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Eduardo.

  24. alvin ung says:

    Peter, you are being changed. Over the years I have read your book and your essays published in HBR and online. I’m one of your silent admirers and disciples. I’m from Malaysia.
    There is a journey you are making – mixing courage and contemplation – and sharing the gifts of life (both joy and pain) with the larger world.
    With this piece you have written, there is a deeper shift and this shift will be ongoing – bringing you to places and spaces you do not expect.

    You are creating space. You are inviting us to join you.
    These words are the invitation. “I hope you can be here, with me, in this space for a little time, as we allow ourselves the time and grace to figure out who we are becoming.”
    Indeed we need grace. Grace as in “grace notes” (in music) where we spend time in a way that is not essential to the melody and harmony. We need grace to forgive and be forgiven. And we must not run ahead of the speed of grace.
    Thank you for sharing with us – and the world – the love of your father. Your words give grace to us no matter what circumstance we are in.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Alvin. I’m touched by your comments – I really feel so seen and supported by you – thank you.

  25. Samira says:

    Dear Peter,
    Very sorry to hear about your loss.
    I lost my mother when i was 9 and father 10 years back.
    its my firm believe that our parents never leave us …they are always by our side to guide us.
    take care,
    regards,
    Samira

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Samira.

  26. Mary says:

    Losing a parent is devastating and indeed disorienting. For a long, long time. Your words have hit home with me. Thank you for so eloquently capturing your experience and sharing.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Mary.

  27. Viet Tran says:

    Dear Mr. Peter Bregman,
    I’m saddened to learn about your loss.
    My deep sympathies are with you.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Viet.

  28. Dear Peter,
    So sorry for your loss. I teared as I read the opening paragraph describing your father. I lost my father last year and my mother the year before. They were married 64 years. The word lost just does not capture the void that I felt and still feel at times. But I feel them in everything I do. That is such a comforting feeling. I certainly feel a shift in me and the journey is on going.
    I have been a follower of yours for years and I love your work. Keep inspiring the world knowing that your father is there smiling at you with his strong, tender hands on your back.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you so much Yoga. And I’m sorry for your loss as well.

  29. Mohammad Shahnawaz says:

    Dear Peter,

    I am very sad to hear news about your father. May his soul rest in piece and God give you patience to bear this pain.

  30. Pradip says:

    Dear Peter,
    Please accept my heartflet condolences.
    I know that how ever old we are and whatever we have achieved in life, the warm hand of parents always feel soothing. Missing that is impossible to recover. I am sure your father must have been proud to see you helping and touching hears of so many people through your books and work.
    Time is the only healer, I wish you all the very best.
    Om Shanti
    Pradip

  31. Kieleigh Hogan says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. May his memory bring a smile sooner rather than later.
    The passing of a parent, particularly one who is so beloved is challenging at the best of times. When confronted with a similar challenge, I took several steps down in my career to prioritise my family. I came to the realisation that for my family to cope, I needed to and that meant reassessing what was important.
    That includes doing as you suggest, just pausing, processing and letting ourselves grow as we will, filling those places they occupied in life with their memories, their wisdoms and taking on their mantle as we may (or not as the case may be).
    While my career may never completely recover, I have found that is ok, as I think I am a better person (definitely one I like spending time with more) which adds to the connections with my family, and the realisation of what is really important.

  32. Marilyn Paul says:

    I was very touched by these words of yours. “Given everything I am experiencing and all of who I am, can I let myself be moved and touched and changed by this moment? Will I allow this change in my world – deeply personal and vastly global – to wash over me, shift my worldview, change me? Not from a place of discipline or drive, not from a self-directed, strategic, goal-oriented place, but from a place of openness and vulnerability. Not from willfulness but from willingness.” Can we allow ourselves to feel the longing to change, to experience the awe and sacredness of the moment? I’m inspired by your eloquence and your honesty.
    May your father’s memory be a blessing and may you be comforted in the deepest of ways.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Marilyn . I hope you’re well!

  33. r says:

    Please accept our deep condolences Peter, on your loss. he will always be with you. We lost our mother last year, and what you’ve shared is so so true Peter, it is the way ahead, thank you so much

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you – and my condolences for your loss as well.

  34. Helen Bloomfield says:

    Dear Peter, so very very sorry for your loss. I feel in how you have written, that it has changed you, along no doubt with what is happening in this world now. I have followed you a long time and watched you develop ever more in wisdom, insight, compassion and grace, and through the last few years with your journey with “emotional courage” particularly. You were already an extremely “evolved” human being (apologies fo the jargon) and even so I can sense a shift even more towards your living and feeling in a deeper, more conscious, and encompassing way. So, through tragedy and deep sadness, new ‘life’ (as ways of seeing and experiencing are born). I imagine your father could not have been any prouder of the amazing man he helped make and mould. You will continue to bring him into the world through all you do and all you are.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Helen for your kind and thoughtful words. I am really touched. Thank you for seeing me.

  35. Kim Derderian says:

    Dear Peter, your love for your father is so palpable. You have penned a lovely tribute to him. Thank you for enabling us to feel just how beautiful a human being he was. Clearly, his spirit lives on in you and those who had the privilege of knowing him. Thank you too for sharing your vulnerability, questioning, and conflicts with us. It takes great courage to do so. You may remember my having said that in the French language, the words “courage” and “heart” (“coeur”) share the same root in Latin. Your courage and heart are certainly on display here. Tap into them and welcome whatever emerges during this unprecedented time for you and for the world. It’s OK to let go and to accept that there are many right answers that will come from different sources. Enjoy the process of exploration and discovery! From a very practical standpoint, I think we would all be more productive if we created “Not to Do” lists. I’m also a fan of “To Be” lists rooted in intention rather than goals. What better time than now to create them? In closing, I would like you to know that when I am procrastinating, struggling, and/or confused about next steps, I often hear your voice: “If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything.” Lately, I’ve heard myself insert a footnote: “If you are willing to feel everything, you can BE anything.” Life is full of liminal periods when we are eager to continuously learn and grow. They are indispensable to our becoming. Having the courage and heart to become, be and do was, it seems to me, your father’s gift to life. I believe it’s yours as well. Thank you for sharing your gifts with so many.

    1. Peter Bregman says:

      Thank you Kim. I’m so touched by what you’ve written. Yes, focusing on being rather than doing seems to be right for me right now. I will read your comment again, very moving for me. By the way, I continue to read the feedback you offered from the training you attended Dash I read it before every training I lead. Thank you. I hope you are well.

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