I have recently been in a state of non-doing. No, let me re-phrase that. I’ve recently been in a conscious state of non-doing. There have been many unproductive times in my life, during which I have judged, worried, kept busy with silliness and distracted myself, running from the potential stillness. This time has been different. I’ve kept on top of necessities, brushed my teeth, paid bills, that sort of thing, but all in a curious energy of non-attachment. And all the while I’ve watched my mind, noticing how it is hell-bent on letting me know it doesn’t like just being, it doesn’t know how to just be. I’ve also noticed the lies it tells me to spur me into action; one of which is that if I just do something, it’ll leave me alone in peace.
This time has shown me that I overwork my life. By far, the most painful criticism I have received as an artist is that a painting is “over-worked”. It suggests an overcompensation of effort and will in order to make up for lack of talent or technical skill… when really it is a lack of trust. The term “over-worked” smacks of desperation and is shot through with fear.
As an artist who has often over-worked paintings, I am painfully aware of this propensity, which results in creative projects puttering to a halt, half-finished, with me left feeling depleted and disappointed. For a long time I have searched for the winning formula to end this pattern in my creativity. Many a time, well-meant words such as, “Just stop before you think its finished”, or “Its fine as it is”, have had the bizarre effect of drop-kicking me into a frothing rage. But it is only recently that I have come to realise there is no way I can ever change this habit in my art while it remains a corner-stone in the way I live my life.
Doing is next to godliness in our society and we are raised to believe the more we do, the more we will achieve and the happier we will be. No matter what area of our life is in disarray, the answer lies in doing more to fix it. Whether it’s our work, spirituality, health or relationships, there’s always a never-ending supply of suggestions on what more we can do to rectify imbalances and challenges. As if these issues were evidence of under-achievement, and not inherently and perfectly part of life. Whether these suggestions come from well-meaning friends and family, less subtly from marketeers of personal growth programs, or in the form of the harshly critical and fear-mongering voice of our inner critic, there is never a shortage of them.
The Perfection of Procrastination
Doing takes form in action, thinking, planning, worrying and decision-making. To be engaged in any or all of these activities is accepted as responsible and mature; it means we are facing reality, right? And sometimes that is the case. But procrastination has been given a bad rap in my opinion, and I think we need to let it off the hook somewhat.
“The action of delaying or postponing something” is the definition of procrastination… funny how it says “the action of”; it seems we can’t even leave doing out of not taking action. It denotes laziness and fear, a lack of confidence and responsibility.
Yet compulsive action, over-thinking, analysing and micro-managing the crap out of life is OK… in fact, it’s deified. Even the over-used psychological and spiritual term “processing” suggests there is something we need to do. The greatest praise, when I was at school, was to be deemed an “over-achiever”. In our attempts to distract ourselves from ourselves and our pain, we manufacture decisions to be made and stories to be worried over like chew-toys. We fill our lives with “shoulds” and “what ifs” and “yes, buts”, never pausing to question their validity or their source. We identify with our thoughts, projections, memories and anxieties, taking them as truths, and warnings to not be caught slacking. As Passenger sings, “I don’t know where I’m running, but I know how to run, because it’s what I’ve always done.” We overwork life, all the time.
Procrastination sometimes arises from our inner wisdom asking us to take a moment. And sometimes it stems from fear, a need to distract ourselves, feel important or keep ourselves safe. Are our motives for over-working our lives any different?
Slow down, simplify
I feel like I’ve been let into a secret recently, and it feels delicious, albeit unfamiliar. I am catching glimpses of life taking care of life. It isn’t up to me, and life isn’t waiting on me to lead the way. My mind wants me to believe that without my effort and management, things will fall apart, but I have noticed that there really is an ebb and flow that happens without my permission (can you imagine?!), and that when I align myself to it’s rhythm, everything feels more spacious and easy. Just more peaceful.
There is a part of me that can stand to witness stillness and quietness without needing distraction, that can allow undecidedness and things undone to simply be, that can watch my mind and all it’s antics without falling prey to it’s machinations, that is perfect, just as it is, with nowhere to go, nothing to do or become. When action arises out of this place, it is right and it is easy and there is no decision to make. Just like over-working a painting, over-working life arises from a lack of trust that life’s got it. We can choose to trust life or not… it will unfold regardless, but our experience of it will be very different.
As we relax deeper into the earthy energy of 2018, with Saturn in Capricorn and Uranus having just ingressed into Taurus, let’s remember what earth energy is all about. Let’s heed it’s call to slow down and simplify. Let’s, as Mooji puts it, let the world wait…
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