WorkLife Office urges women to make time for talk on Tuesday

Courtesy Abby Seixas Abby Seixas

Abby Seixas has dedicated the last 20 years of her career to helping others in the "art of slowing down."

Even on her days off, longtime mental health expert and former Palo Alto resident Abby Seixas has blocks of time that are free and blocks of them that aren't—largely due to her book about women slowing down their busy lives.

Last November, two months after the debut of Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman's Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life, Seixas was flown out twice to New York—once, to be on the Today show. And back in her hometown, both the Boston Globe and the local CBS affiliate have highlighted her work. It was also featured in Oprah Winfrey's magazine.

Next week, Seixas returns to the Bay Area for a five-stop visit, one of them at Stanford on March 6. Her free book talk, "Finding the Deep River Within: The Art of Slowing Down in a 24/7 World," will go from noon to 1 p.m. in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center's Kissick Auditorium and is sponsored by Stanford's WorkLife Office.

Her three other talks, between March 4 and March 8, will be in Berkeley, Pleasant Hill and San Francisco. She also plans to conduct a daylong workshop for women on March 10 in Portola Valley.

"I have never been busier," Seixas said. "If you want to slow down, don't write a book about slowing down."

Seixas has more than 25 years of experience in the mental health field and has been a consultant and clinical psychotherapy supervisor at training centers in the United States, England, the Netherlands and Russia. Although her career path is now headed toward training other women to lead workshops based on her principles, she still maintains a private practice and sees patients four days a week.

Seixas said most of her experience has been with busy women in the corporate world. But while their counterparts in academia may have some stresses that are unique to their field, Seixas said she expects to find a lot of commonalities. "The fact that we have a term for an increment of time that is a billionth of a second—what does that say about our culture?" Seixas said.

And it's not just the working mom. Seixas said she once gave a talk attended by a woman in her 20s and more frequently speaks to women in their 30s, 40s and 50s—many of whom don't have children. Seixas added that men are no less susceptible to taking on too much, although society seems to be a bit more lenient when they don't strike the perfect balance between work and the rest of life.

"There is a particular pressure on women because of the expectation around the superwoman norm in our culture," Seixas said. "I think the over-busyness and over-scheduling, the brunt of it may be falling on women a little more than on men."

On Tuesday, Seixas will discuss how the "disease of a-thousand-things-to-do" affects everyone, what can be done about it and why it's important—both individually and collectively—to "put on the brakes and remember what really matters."

That said, Seixas points out that it's not necessarily bad to be busy, and that she does not make moral judgments about those who prefer living at that pace. She acknowledged that some thrive on that kind of momentum and find fulfillment in checking off items on their long list of things to do.

"But my question is, 'Is there an off switch?'" Seixas said. "Do we have the ability to turn it off? … If you don't know how to stop, eventually it does lead to burnout."

Seixas further warned that some don't come to a place where they can be still in body and mind until it is forced upon them by a life-altering event, such as a loved one's death, divorce, illness or some other crisis.

Seixas said the metaphor of the river as a deeper level that people can tap for inner strength and wisdom was a personal one, and that other images—such as a well—may work better for others. But whatever the visual, Seixas' goal is to teach people the importance of finding a balance in their busy everyday lives, one that opens up a channel for currents from that deeper place to enter.

"Do you know also how to be still or be quiet or pause? There's not much in the culture that teaches us how to do that," Seixas said. "It's a skill that can be learned."