I developed a new relationship with doing nothing this week. In my prior relationship, my mind would be constantly chattering and delivering a play-by-play evaluation of my lack of initiative, predicting dire consequences that would undoubtedly result, and eviscerating any self-esteem that had foolishly attempted to stick around. This week I fired that taskmistress and replaced her with a compilation of soothing wise elders, an impish trickster, and a tolerant but slightly peckish historian whose job it was to remind me that there was nothing new under the sun.
Each of these personas functioned to keep me balanced over a week of fear-infused, dopamine-charged pictorial displays of fanciful “What-ifs?” amplified by colorful charts and percentages based on algorithms and perhaps, crap shooters in some back room. (I can’t confirm that last assertion). I suppose I could have just unplugged completely and gone off to a retreat center. But I didn’t. I parked myself in front of the TV and wandered about the channels seeking relief from not being able to experience predictability.
To reduce my anxiety, my wise elders would collectively remind me that I had done my civic duty and then encourage me to reach out to others so that I wouldn’t feel so alone. The impish trickster insisted that I would never survive without copious amounts of chocolate, and sent me out on a mission to collect samples. The historian kept me looking up things on Google to confirm my strongly held beliefs about everything, or to correct mistakes of others (supporting my strongly held belief that I know best!)
Remarkably, the world continued to spin on its axis without any assistance from me. The sun rose and set (albeit earlier than I prefer). I was able to successfully complete my activities of daily living, and I actually practiced my profession once or twice. I showed up on time for appointments, got gas in my car, and made my bed. I took my vitamins, made sure I drank plenty of water and exercised (not as much as I should or could have, though).
In spite of all these efforts, I remained becalmed. No wind to move me forward. No tide to take me out. I had become so used to frenetically moving about that the experience of not moving was actually a bit disturbing. At least a first. As I listened to my council of wise personas, I just kept declining the invitation to “do something”.
It was particularly difficult when others asked my advice for what they should do! This is a seductive ploy on the part of “do-ers” to get their fix. According to the old motivator in me, “DOING WILL GET YOU EVERYTHING YOU WANT! NOT DOING IS DEATH!” (the caps are intentional). Still, I found ways to resist.
In the past, when queried by others as to what they should do, an earlier (less developed) version of me would rise to the occasion and share my sage advice and helpful prescriptions for leading a perfect life. The fact that few of those to whom I had given this advice ever followed it was not lost on me! But now, with support from my newly appointed directorate, I was able to say, “I don’t know what you should do. Perhaps you should just chill.” Or words to that effect.
The result of my new-found linguistic ploy was immediate within my own inner confab. Parts of me continued to grumble and share their perspectives that I was in league with the Devil and nothing good would come of not doing. Other parts exhaled in long relaxing breaths, filling the room with carbon dioxide laden sighs. And then there was the guilt chorus.
This is a special group, changing in numbers depending on just how guilty I am feeling, who join together much as I was taught a Greek Chorus would in the plays of Euripides or Sophocles, to bemoan the fate of the heroine. This Guilt Chorus often is present when there is exchange between my “Shoulds and Ought-tas” and my sense of “Duty and Obligation”. It is only in recent times that I have located a somewhat reliable mute button (with the option of closed captioning) that silences their droning and lets me retain a bit of distance such that I am able to observe myself in the maze I run on a daily basis and just wonder why I don’t stop and crawl out of it all together.
What I have learned in these past days is that I need to improve my capacity for waiting. The angst of not knowing has resulted in my putting foodstuffs in my mouth that have caused metabolic changes that I am clear that I do not want! I need to cut down my screen time and not play endless games of Matchington Mansion, Tangle-Master, or Parking Jam. I need to return to pursuits of live music, drumming (very satisfactory!), and going for walks.
I have also learned a hard lesson that there are many people out there who do not agree with me, share my values, or see issues in a similar fashion. I have learned that some of them are angry and don’t care to have me express my thoughts. I have been shocked to find that people I have known for many years now espouse beliefs that I find offensive. I find myself confused, saddened, and at times even scared because the fantasy I thought was real is so different from the reality I am living.
What this all boils down to for me is finding new ways of doing and being. Seeking power and influence within myself rather than affiliating with outside sources. Finding connection within groups who are like myself while being willing to seek new experiences outside of my comfort zone. Listening instead of preaching. These are efforts that are worthy of doing. All are things that reflect my very being.
I am reminded of the wonderful teacher, Angeles Arrien. In her Four-Fold Way teaching she proposed these guidelines:
The Way of the Warrior: Show up, and choose to be present.
The Way of the Healer” Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
The Way of the Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment.
The Way of the Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.