The problem with having an active, well-educated brain is that you tend to use it more often than you need to. You tend to think of it as a problem-solver…of ALL problems. But in my reality, that brain causes a lot of problems, too, and I need to be careful how I use it. (And when. Mindfulness practice mostly happens at 4 am here at my house.)
Example: yesterday’s hopes for “going under.” I enjoyed the day, but I wouldn’t describe it as immersive. I stepped from stone to stone across the river rather than dive right in. Which is fine. I mean, I’d like to have accomplished more, but it was fine then, and it’s fine now. And that fine-ness, that relaxation with how I’ve been doing, is what enables me to keep moving forward. (And trust me, this is an atypical response. I must be growing up or something.)
Here’s a more typical pattern (see if you recognize any of this!):
1. Make a vast and impressive list of really critical things to take care of;
2. Spend most of the available time alternately re-organizing the list and eating chocolate on the couch;
3. Accomplish one important thing off the list and get halfway into another;
4. Spend the next three days in an analytical downward spiral over why I never get anything done.
My physical therapist is trying to convince me to use a lacrosse ball to release trigger points in my back. You stand with your back against a wall with the ball between you and the wall and you roll around, leaning on the ball. It’s transformative. It’s painful. It’s illuminating. And, apparently, it’s necessary, because you can’t really strengthen muscles that are all tied up in knots.
See where I’m going with this? A relaxed, forgiving attitude toward failure turns out to be not only not a problem — it’s a positive solution. That’s right.
And if you get your head around that before I do, let me know. I’m still working on it. But I realize it’s true, my BODY knows it’s true, even though (because?) it gravitates against most of the self-evident “truths” we get taught: that lists are made so we can check things off; that our job is to check off as many of them as we can; that discipline is next to godliness (or something); that NOT checking things off constitutes failure; that failure is bad.
Today, instead, I’ll try these on as truths:
1. Lists are made to help us see clearly our commitments and desires. It’s a vision exercise as well a form of task management. I need to know which is which.
2. Our job is to live wholly and well, fulfilling our many commitments and desires (listed or unlisted) over time, and that may mean RESTING.
3. Discipline is useful and necessary and it is also a skill we practice and, at times, eschew. We get to be the deciders. And we can TRUST ourselves, trust our desires and whims. Discipline alone is only one avenue toward achievement.
4. A revolving to-do list may indicate failure — but of which kind? The delicious kind that suggests we had much, much better things to do, which have filled us with glee? The painful kind that indicates we had to spend our time doing things not on the list (doctor’s visits, soothing troubled children, plumbing)? The mundane kind that tells us we really don’t WANT to be doing the things on the list, and maybe we’d do well to delegate or let go? The terrifying kind that might tell us the list is not specific enough, since we’re totally paralyzed and overwhelmed? The exhilarating kind that means we’re onto something big here and a list will never contain it?
5. Failure is not bad. It means we’re learning something.
“SEE?” my inner critic gloats. “You USED me for this, and look how much it helped!”
“Yes,” I say. “Thank you. Now go lie down.”