This is the training. Relax the narrative, loosen your view, and drop into the openness of the present moment. Breathe deeply, and relax your body. Relax the jaw, relax the muscles in your torso. Feel the openness in this moment.
It took me a long time to understand that the only source of stress in my life is myself.
I’ve been in two car crashes where I’ve instantly gone from automobile operator to roller-coaster rider. I’ve been absolutely wiped out, in countless variations, in martial arts context. I’ve discovered mid-air that I’ve been launched off my mountain bike. I’ve been obliterated while skiing. I’ve had too many—I’m refusing to count—nearly serious automobile accidents where my driving skills, applied consciously with to-the-inch and to-the-split-second accuracy saved the day. I’ve had bones broken. I’ve been fallen upon, by a poor fellow who was saved from an 8-foot, head first, fall onto concrete… by the flex of my rib cage. I’ve been hit in the face with a max-power, line-drive, point-blank soccer ball penalty kick. I’ve been flattened by a skull-to-skull running-speed impact. Sucker-punched in the gut. T-boned into the sticker-bushes at high speed on a bicycle. Beaned by a 2×6 board. I once fell 12 feet from a tree with my head being the first thing to land… on a tree root. I’ve been clipped by a truck, and blown a bicycle tire at high speed, ending up happy to reach the ditch rather than the asphalt. I rear-ended a car at speed (on my bicycle.) I’ve been banged up, flipped over, slammed into, … but also yelled at, and put upon. I had someone angrily invoke the name of my dead father in an attempt to shame my actions. I’ve been laughed at, and picked last in gym class. I’ve run out of money and bummed rides to work. I’ve been chewed out by a boss. I’ve had my credit card declined while in public. I’ve been scammed by street hustlers, lied to by various people, and pre-judged in various dimensions.
…and I can now truthfuly say: The only source of stress in my life is myself.
Tom Petty’s lyrics not withstanding, I agree with Leo. Starting is definitely the hardest part. Unfortunately, I don’t understand why it is so difficult for me.
Take this blog post. It’s 9pm. I go to sleep at 9:30. (Why, is an entirely different story, see, Sleep.) I’ve a long drive tomorrow, and I’ve a few things left to stuff in my overnight bag. I’ve waited all day to do this small task. Writing these blog posts is straightforward; I have a well-oiled process for dropping into the right mindset and dipping into a fertile sea of cached ideas to find one to inspire. Invariably, a few minutes into the process, I’ve found an interesting thread to pull on. This is so much fun, I could—quite literally—do this all day. So why then do I wait until 9pm?
Because you see, it’s not just writing this blog post. I feel all the things on my to-do lists—both literal and in my head—are like writing this blog post: Straightforward, self-chosen, in line with my priorities and goals, inherently interesting, generally worth doing, immediately rewarding in most cases. And yet, the proverbial 9pm rolls around before I feel enough pressure to start.
The only thing I can think of is that some part of my mind just knows that the list will never be done. No matter how many times the “let’s get stuff done” part of my brain were to rise to the occasion, there’s some other part of my brain that will roll Sisyphus’s rock back to the bottom. Maybe this is all there is to it? Is the problem, not the “doer” side, but the “setter upper of things to do” side? Is the problem that I don’t know how to simply be?
Have I, perhaps, only learned instead how to be a human doing?
I am by far my own worst enemy. Go go go. Do do do. In the past year this is the area where I’ve made the most progress. I’ve gotten much better at setting out a sane plan for my days. And when a day doesn’t go exactly as planned—so, basically every day—I’m now able to roll with it.
Also, I’ve long been good at “active” days off. I can spend a day biking or climbing or at some event. It doesn’t need to be gonzo-level physical either. I think the feeling of physical activity convinces my mind that something meaningful has been accomplished.
But what I cannot do is simply idle. Sit on a beach… not drinking nor reading nor writing nor thinking. Or relax on my patio. “Just be,” is definitely still beyond my grasp.
I owe a large debt to Leo Babauta of Zen Habits for the tremendous number of tremendously useful posts I’ve had the pleasure of noodling over. One way I try to pay back people who’ve been kind enough to create positive things sprinkled around the Internet is simply to point as many people as I can towards said things. If you’d like to try a large dose of—what I lovingly refer to as—Leo-zen, try his free ebook, The One Skill.
Imagine that you were to sign up for a retreat this month … you put aside your daily life, all your busywork, all your projects and errands and emails and messages … and you travel to another place. In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.
Not only does hyper-connection alter our social relationships, it also makes us dumber, as pointed out as early as 2005. It threatens our health too. Twenty-first-century afflictions include digital fatigue, social media burnout or compulsive internet use. Cures for these rising internet-related disorders include such radical solutions as rehab centers, or disconnection.
Babauta’s take is from the Zen perspective of simply—as in: this is the only thing you have to do, and don’t overcomplicate it in the doing—creating space in your life. Lefeuvre’s is from a nuts-and-bolts perspective of facts and tactics.
I feel called quite often to take more time to reflect. I was going to write, “sit and reflect,” but it’s not quite always sitting. I believe this is also true for everyone else; some people are early on in their journeys and their need for reflection is small in total, but it is more than they are currently doing. With precious few exceptions, we could all use more time for reflection.
Do you have time for reflection built into your life?
I try to walk as much as I can. Usually I make it out to walk every day for about an hour. For years I was simply walking in nature with myself and my thoughts. A few years ago, when I got really into podcasts as a listener, I started listening while walking.
But about a year ago—after noticing I’d stopped writing things down about my walks—I realized that I had lost something valuable: My time alone with my thoughts. So I cut back to listening to podcasts for about half the walk.
I’m often asked if I meditate. Yes, particularly in the past year, and it looks a lot like walking.
In this place, you remove yourself from the busy world and find space for quiet. For reflection. For contemplation, setting intentions, reviewing how things have gone. For gratitude and appreciation for life.
You might meditate, relax, read, journal. You might take a walk in nature, or find solitude. You might just mindfully enjoy the space.
What I like about this prompting from Babauta is that it’s about creating space for retreat and reflection; it’s not about necessarily going to some specific, special place. I’ve spent several years arranging and rearranging my life to create space for retreat and reflection in my daily life. It’s not easy. It hasn’t been easy. …on me or on those around me. I had gotten to the place I was gradually by taking small steps, day after day, in the wrong direction. So turning around was difficult, and beginning to walk back was close to impossible.
But it was possible. It is possible.
Do you have 5 minutes every day where you can retreat and reflect? If you don’t, try it for a few days. Set aside a specific time and work to arrange your life (including the people in your life) to make that small space sacred.
… Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.
Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows.
Steven Pressfield also writes a lot about resistance. (For example, see his book, The War of Art.) The approach he advocates is one of showing up and doing the work. He has a lot of good advice around preparing for the inevitable arrival of resistance, and even goes so far as to consider it a necessary evil; it’s a thing within each of us that cannot be avoided and which must be faced in the process of heading the call of the work.
Me? I’m just exhausted from should’ing on myself.
These days, I’m definitely in a Leo-zen phase where I’d like the path of least resistance. My personal challenge is not that I’m going to get sucked into video games and sit around all day. My personal challenge is that I’m going to bash myself on the task-of-the-day one time too many… or a thousand times too many. For me, the path of least resistance is obviously still a path towards the goal; I still have goals and I cannot help but choose paths towards those goals. I’ve permanently ingrained the habit: Here’s an idea. Here’s the goal. Here’re the first 10 next-actions. I’ve got that. Can’t avoid it. I could never not do that.
But do I take those next-actions now… like, right now? Perhaps it would better to relax doing nothing for a bit, and take those next-actions tomorrow? …or maybe even next week?
This is the fear, when people start being kind to themselves — that they’ll be too soft, they won’t get stuff done, they’ll let themselves off the hook too easily, they’ll just lie around doing nothing.
There was a time, not too long ago, when I felt this way. I had the work-ethic, grit, stick-to-it-iveness, determination, bull-headed, finish-all-the-things dial twisted to 11 and covered in duct tape.
I believe I have learned the lesson. We’ll see what 2020 brings.
I’ll know I have it sorted when it only feels like an “idea” to tackle some new thing, help someone do something, implement some idea, accept a new challenge… When it feels only like an idea, rather than an urge like an addict has urges.