Sometimes it’s just too much

There seems to be a lot of too much going around.

My friends are too busy and too tired.  And so am I.

That seems to be a common symptom of our society.  We work too hard and play too hard.  We fill every moment with activity.

We even seem to feel guilty if we take time off – to rest, to nap, to be.

Overactivity is, to use a cliche, a badge of honor.

Except that it’s not.  It produces perpetually tired people.

How did we get this way?  Technology was supposed to make our lives easier, to increase our leisure time, to give us time to do what we want to do instead of what we have to do.

We actually do have more leisure time than we did 50, 100, 200 years ago.  And what do we do with it?

We fill it up.

With going.  And going and going and going.

Until we’re even more exhausted.

I think it’s partially because we don’t want to feel.

“Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger,  jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

– Pema Chodron

If we take time to sit, to rest, to be with ourselves, we might feel that disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, anger, jealousy, or fear.  Heck, we feel those even in the midst of our busyness, in the midst of our exhaustion.  But at least we don’t have time to be with them, actually to feel them.  We push on with the busyness.

And hope the feelings go away.

But what if we were to allow ourselves to feel, to sit with, to be with, perhaps an emotion like irritation?  Would we be less irritated?

I find if I stay with a feeling, not judging it and also not beating myself up for having it, that its intensity diminishes.  Some space opens up.  And I feel better.  Not completely free of the feeling, but a crack begins.  It lets in some air.  And I can breathe a little better.  I feel a little more relaxed.  I enjoy life a little more.

I have a very busy couple of weeks coming up.  I can feel the anxiety.  Will I be prepared for what I need to do?  Will I take care of everything that needs to be done? Am I competent enough to fulfill my obligations?  Will I have the energy and stamina to get up early and be alert and involved through long days?  Will this busy time help me make a living, pay my bills, get me out of a hole?

Can I do it all?

On some level, I know the answer is yes – or at least partially yes.  And if it’s not yes, it’s not the end of the world.  At all.

But I still feel anxiety and doubt.

So yesterday and today I sat with that.  I sat in my yard with blue sky and crisp fall breeze and cats doing their catty things.

I felt my anxiety, my doubt.  I noticed where those feelings manifest in my body, in tight breathing, in tense muscles ready to spring at a moment’s notice, in an ache here, in a heaviness there.  I noticed all that.

My mind tried to create stories to explain my tension.  Stories from my past, from my parents’ reactions to stress, from my perceptions of others, from times decades ago and times just last week.

And I let those stories go.

They’d come back.  And I’d let them go again.

The question keeps being, “Who am I?”

And I realized that the answer is very fluid, changing just as the clouds changed today.

There is no set “me.”  Who I think I am is just a bunch of stories I tell myself.

So today, I let myself quit telling stories for a bit.

It felt good.  Less tense.  Less heavy.  Less binding.

So in these next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to be story-free – or at least somewhat story-free.  To let the stories tell themselves but not to get engaged too deeply in them.

Because they’re always changing.

As is what I think is who I am.

Maybe I’m a figment of my own imagination?

If so, I choose to be a lighter, less tense figment.

Starting right now.

Smokies Oct. 2007 018

October in the Smokies, 2007

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