Running on Empty: The Irreverent Guru’s Guide to Filling up with Mindfulness
by Shelley Pernot
Most of us have heard the sentiment expressed in the title of Shelley Pernot’s debut published work, Running on Empty. We have so much going on in our busy workdays and schedules that even when our go-go juice runs dry, we somehow must soldier on: make it out the front door finishing breakfast on the run, prepare for a business meeting as we navigate through the commute, barely make it into the office, where we shall spend the day multi-tasking, keeping up on e-mails and continually transitioning from one duty to the next and the next and the next … you get the idea. The typical result is a lifestyle consisting of a pattern that we repeat day after day, with little fulfilment as the years go by. This is much like the dogs Pernot uses to illustrate this cycle, dogs who chase a mechanical rabbit around the track every day, never, ever catching it.
[W]e all have … [a] part of ourselves that we’ve never really expressed. Perhaps something that we’ve disallowed because it was different, silly, or how the heck are we ever going to make money with that. And slowly, over time, we lose touch with these parts of ourselves. We drift along unconsciously, busy chasing that mechanical rabbit, caught up in the game of life. And then we wake up one day and wonder … “How the hell did I get here?”
Enter mindfulness. Rather than a new-wave, New Age-y sort of philosophy, mindfulness entails a focus on the now in an accepting manner. It seeks to avoid judgmental thoughts—about ourselves and others—and focus more on what we are doing in the present moment. The benefits are many, but some idea how one might gain from its practice is the stress reduction resulting from a decrease in the amount of critical commentary that actually slows work down, hinders creativity and inhibits confidence. Once we are better able to see past the negativity, we come to understand what we really can do.
For example: Suppose I decide I want to make a few illustrations for a work in progress. My brother and father were the artists in the family and I can really only make stick figures. I can’t draw faces. My hand smudges the page as I travel across it. I could continue on in this manner, which more than likely won’t result in anything productive, beneficial or even fun.
Suppose, however, I choose to push all that out of my mind and sit down with a pencil and sketch pad, just for the heck of it? I plan it for a school day so there are no distractions at home and decide I’ll give it an hour. Or even thirty minutes. I make a focused decision to try my hand, paying attention to what I’m doing, refer to a manual about drawing, experiment a little, see what I can come up with. At the end of my allotted time, even if without a finished product, I have more than likely made at least one discovery, perhaps conjured up ideas I could try next time, even been a little excited about what I was doing. That positive experience was enabled when I tossed away the judgements and focused on the project, accepting whatever small benefit I may have gotten from it.
One of my favorite ways Pernot illustrates acceptance links to the next phase in all of this, that is to say: OK, so how do we do this? I gave an example above from my own experience. The author presents a variety of techniques for practicing mindfulness, stressing that even small gains matter and that practitioners are “striving for excellence, not perfection.” After all, if we judge ourselves harshly because we didn’t focus on our present as much as we could have, it isn’t just a “violation” of a main tenet of mindfulness practice; it does—even more importantly—break down what we did achieve. Considering that mindfulness can be practiced in countless ways on tasks large and small, in just about any setting, there’s a lot to gain.
Pernot’s casual but informed writing style and continuum of life experiences assure us that the methods she posits are effective growth mechanisms, designed not only to engage greater thoughtfulness, but also to enable our awareness of why they work. Throughout the book she uses humor—often of the corny sort that draws us in because we can relate to so much of it. It’s sometimes silly, but it’s also a gift to us because it provides us with a lighter feel to it all as we gain greater confidence that this isn’t all about, as she says, “zenning out” or being all spiritual and complicated.
Each chapter focuses on one angle of learning to practice mindfulness, with exercises at the end of every one. Simple and straightforward, they nevertheless give readers some practice in the adaptation of mindfulness to their own lives and developing discernment and awareness. Moreover, each subsequent chapter builds on what we learned in the previous, sometimes surprising in its depth of information, especially considering the lightness of the read.
Along the way, Pernot also travels with Ed, the Mystical Mindfulness Monk, a character whose own curiously successful adaptation to our modern world (he likes Cheetos) lends consideration to the novelty of monks in a context not often perceived. His levity pairs with Pernot’s titular irreverence, transforming the journey from mere discovery to one with lightness, speed bumps, and equanimity, providing the concept of mindfulness with the same light re-evaluation that perhaps there is a side to this we are pleasantly surprised by.
The book is so well laid out and, as mentioned, so easy to read that one may encounter the temptation to speed through it, given its accessible and conversational tone. It should be, however, savored, much like delicious food (incidentally, another angle of mindfulness found to have contributed to healthy weight loss). It is fun enough to be easily read again, especially owing to its deceptive depth of understanding.
Though the book’s blurb promotes Running on Empty as “[w]ritten for the professional struggling with work/life balance,” I would slightly disagree, as in today’s age, and especially what I call the “culture of rush,” not to mention the push of a favorite buzzword (that I personally loathe), multi tasking, nearly any job can lead to a pattern of thoughtless living. Nearly everyone in every socioeconomic level has a smartphone, computer or variety of apps, and falling into an unintentional life is a danger few of us can afford to ignore.
What’s extra lovely about Running on Empty is that while it can function as a tool, and can be referred back to countless times, it also tells a story—several, in fact—and is filled with laughter and feel-good. Pernot’s passion for mindfulness, her open admissions regarding her shortcomings and wonderful writing style don’t only give her credibility. We also see she is a lot like us—she sings karaoke, for crying out loud—and the desire to digest more of her contagious good nature leads to great hope that there is much more to come from this teacher, this irreverent guru of laughter and learning.
The blogger was provided with an advance review copy of Running on Empty in order to write an honest review.
About the author …
A small town girl from east Texas, Shelley Pernot earned her MBA from a top European school and then proceeded to a well-paid job in risk management in London. In 2009 she moved back to the U.S. and discovered yoga by accident. After a few months of practicing, she went on sabbatical to become a yoga teacher and then traveled to Africa.
Upon returning to her FTSE 100 energy firm employer, she assumed a new role in Leadership Development devising teaching programs like Courageous Conversations, aimed at establishing a corporate culture that welcomes honest discussion.
Having dreamed of starting her own coaching and training business for years, she launched True North Development as a safe space for people to explore what’s holding them back from reaching their potential. Running on Empty is her first book.
To learn more about Shelley Pernot and mindfulness, click here.