Re-assessing my relationship with busyness
All my life I have been a “doer.” One who does. I have striven. I’ve defined myself as diligent. If you’ve needed a job done well, I’ve been your go-to person. If you’ve needed a problem solved, I’ve solved it. Organized. Efficient. Smart. I’ve thought outside that box, and I’ve worked to the point of exhaustion and beyond. Back during my years in the entertainment business, being driven meant routinely sacrificing a good night’s sleep, home cooked meals, and life beyond the walls of a production office. I’ve taken pride in my perfectionist tendencies, and refused to tolerate mistakes. My successes in a variety of fields have been tempered by my belief that there’s always more to learn, and you can never know too much.
A constant state of low- to mid- to high-grade frantic busyness—external and internal anxiety—has been the cost of pursuing excellence. A price I have willingly paid. My sense of happiness has been linked to the magnitude of my achievement, both in terms of volume and degree. If I have felt down or tired or dissatisfied, I have told myself to work harder, and have.
This modus operandi was never more true than when my girl got sick. In fact, my work ethic kicked into overdrive. Learning became my obsession.* If I wasn’t on the computer conducting research, I was reading books. If I wasn’t reading a book, then I was back on the computer conducting more research, seeking resources, finding answers. I made phone calls. I had meetings. I worked as hard as I could to solve my girl’s problems. I thought and thought and thought. My inner critic, who’d always been quick to judge, jumped right in with an endless stream of recriminations regarding my perceived failures. These thoughts exacerbated negative emotions and a downward mood spiral ensued. Before long I had two major problems on my hands: curing my girl’s illness and solving my headspace struggle.
That’s when things really got bad.
After completing the pie chart exercise (read here), I realized that I had done everything within my power to facilitate my daughter’s healing. I hadn’t let her down; I hadn’t caused her illness; I wasn’t responsible for curing her. She had a journey ahead of her that was up to her and her biology. I had a journey of my own, learning this time around would be different. This time I would learn about compassion. I would learn about the power of courage and connection. I would learn about shame. I would release perfectionist tendencies and cut myself some slack. I would accept mistakes as examples of my humanity. I made significant strides in improving my relationship with each pie chart potential. If I had had to re-do it, I’m certain that my level of awesomeness surely would have breached the 400s. Maybe even the 500s! But. . .
Why is there always a but?
Present perfect tense, chosen prior to looking up this definition. Thanks Grammarly.
The present perfect tense refers to an action or state that either occurred at an indefinite time in the past or began in the past and continued to the present time. This tense is formed by have/has + the past participle.
A state that continued to the present…thus: All my life I have been a doer. Doing, doing doing. And yes. My healing work required doing. I attended therapy. I practiced gratitude. I created art. And this doing did indeed increase my self-esteem and provide respites from critical self-talk. There were moments of contentment, periods of calm, snippets of peace. But. (Again with the but!) AND, I have wanted more of the elusive positive emotions and less of the punishing ones. I have wanted to minimize the issues generating persistent thoughts (detritus) like, What’s wrong with me? I should be happier. I should, well, any sentence that includes should that made me feel bad about myself. I have sensed that I was missing some key understanding, some solution that would finally not involve so much doing because the doing has run me ragged, emotionally and physically. I figured there must be an alternative to doing. This sensation led me to investigate a new path.
Enter: A Mindfulness Meditation class and another book, Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
The first 2 chapters of this book blew my mind, which was what I was looking for. The key points:
Emotions aren’t problems that can be solved; they can only be felt. Trying to “solve” negative emotions by thinking them away only begets more of them. The rational critical thinking we employ to analyze problems and the gaps between where we are and where we want to be is our “Doing” mode. We focus on the gap. We see it as a problem to solve. We overthink. We brood. We feel worse. The cycle repeats.
I’ll write in more detail about the class in another post. For now, here’s the kicker: We can transform our life by Being. Being mode is defined as a different way of knowing that allows you to see how your mind tends to distort reality. If Doing mode is the trap, then Being mode is freedom. Mindfulness is the door through which to enter the Being state.
If you’re anything like me, you may have just said, Are you fucking kidding me? It's that easy? It sounds sort of like hooey, like, Cue the sitar music! Fifty years of living and no one has suggested that "Being" will solve my problems. This is a major paradigm shift. And no. Of course it's not easy.
Here's the thing: I gifted myself the class as part of this year's self-care journey. I've been meditating for 8 weeks now and have experienced feeling more free and peaceful and less tired. This shit works! All joking aside, I'm learning that there is a time and place for Doing and a time and place for Being. I have much more to learn about the state of Being and how a meditation practice will enrich my life. For now it seems to be enough that I've noticed a difference.
I'd write more, but it's time to meditate.
*(My words are not intended to imply that the learning was unnecessary, ill-advised, or not useful. Knowledge is power, especially when a mental health diagnosis is involved.)