Taking a few moments to decompress after a long work day is needed. But at what point does “me time” turn into time wasted? Most of us have lives that follow some form of routine. Routines are good when they work for us. However, if we tend to describe ourselves as constantly “busy,” but are hitting the pillow each night feeling that we haven’t been all that productive, we might be in a rut.
Ruts develop over time, and the bad news is that we will never get that time back. Ruts are defined as “long deep tracks made by the repeated passage of the wheels of vehicles.” Ruts exist for a reason. Ruts give us some form of traction (stability), but they don’t lead us anywhere new. When we are made tired by our routines, and in return spend a few hours every evening “decompressing” on the couch or in bed, what are we actually accomplishing? Do we feel better after this time has passed? Are we adding to our overall well-being, or stealing opportunities to get better in some way? If the point is to recharge or replenish our energy, how is that accomplished by doing nothing for an extended period of time? We a car is idling, its engine is running, but the car isn’t going anywhere. It’s wasting fuel. When we’re binge watching Netflix or scrolling Instagram, we’re idle. Our engines are running, but we’re going nowhere. We’re expending energy without purpose. That’s a formula for adding stress, not relieving it! For there is always somewhere more valuable to place our energy to improve our lives rather than into passively consuming. The creators of the content we consume put their energy into something for the sole purpose for us to mindlessly consume, and disguise it as entertainment. That form of consumption is vampiric. We cannot replenish our energy through energy already spent by others. There’s a difference between “time well spent” and “time, well, spent”.
When we tell our stories – when we explain ourselves – how often do we consider why we are doing so? How often do we realize that when we say we are “speaking our truth” are we failing to realize that “our truth” and “the truth” are not always the same? The truth simply “is,” while our truths are complex webs of our experiences shaping how we see situations. At best they are near approximations. Yet, we love to talk. After all, talking is communication and communication is connection, right?
Speaking is a guaranteed method used to measure how in a given moment when you are speaking, you aren’t learning anything. Speaking and learning are mutually exclusive. The paradox here is that if no one ever speaks, then no one ever learns. At some point, someone has to be a teacher and someone has to be a pupil. These are positions, not hierarchies. Reading offers the chance for contemplation, because we don’t have the authors in our presence to engage in conversation or inquiry. This opportunity for introspection is an often missed opportunity whilst in the company of others. We speak up and speak out to be heard for the sake of social norms, politeness and/or the sake of our egos.
When we tell someone else’s stories – when we attempt to explain someone else’s experiences or perspectives – how often do we consider how we can be doing so, accurately? What right do we have to speak for anyone else? Especially when we’re not necessarily experts at speaking our own truths!
What is the art of connection without excess? Is it a lonely existence, or our fear of loneliness that keeps us from knowing the answer?
Perspective is a recurring theme in this blog, and viewed primarily as something that we constantly long to achieve as a means of creating a balanced view of our lives. However, sometimes we are given a dose of perspective that’s unwanted: an unexpected diagnosis – a sudden death – a tragedy. When news is not good and there are no words in the moment that will help, a lesson on perspective will rightfully fall on deaf ears. The time for perspective is not always now!
The only perspective that matters in these moments is hopefully having learned enough from past pain to know how to move forward, even when we know it’ll likely be as though we’re blindfolded and feeling our way through the dark.
Whether the pain is pain you yourself are enduring firsthand or experiencing second, third or fourth-hand, life will keep moving. It’s a linear push. The last thing we want to hear when experiencing loss is a dose of reality. The Latin phrase “Memento Mori” means “remember, you must die.” It sounds like a threat, but it’s not. It’s a reminder of a promise to the debt that we all must pay. The people we love – their bodies are the shelter of souls. Their energy and spirit are what we are most attracted to, and that lives forever – in our hearts as a feeling, and in the stories we tell when we need some of their energy back in a moment to put a smile on our faces, or even to feel a touch of pain, just so we remember how deeply we are capable of feeling. The people who help us feel most intensely are the ones that also serve as a reminder, when we allow ourselves to be weighed down by the day-to-day stressors we experience, of what is really important to care about. Connection. True connection is what we hold onto even when it’s physically no longer there. That is love.
Goals. We can all agree that goal setting is a good thing. They are however, not the best thing to hold onto once we achieve them. Sure, there’s a grace period to celebrate our accomplishments. Once settled again though, a new realization dawns on us. “Dammit! That was a success!” Now what? What’s next?
Failure is an achievement with the an undesirable result. However, what’s keeps us driven is getting back at it until we achieve the desired result. Once that happens, we’ve often expended a lot of energy and are drained. Furthermore, we are sometimes so drained from pushing towards the goal that we didn’t even see the progress we were making until we were well beyond the finish line.
Goals can be like watching the grass grow. We need the distance to gain perspective. It’s almost like we need to have parallel lives going: one to do the work, and one to watch from afar to monitor our progress, so we can appreciate the journey to see the growth within the goals we set in real-time. There are methods of reflection that allow us to do so, and to each their own. The point is that achieving a goal should create a balanced feeling of pride and fear. Pride for what we did, and fear for either, “how do we now maintain what we’ve achieved” or “where do we go from here?” That fear, however, will be more appropriately used if we look at it as excitement for the unknown opposed to fear of the unknown.
If we feel drained on the daily, it’s likely not the work that’s draining us, it’s our approach to the work that’s exhausting. We’re failing at how we’re looking at the problem. Because, as Einstein said, “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” So when we succeed, we’ve succeeded at thinking/doing on a new level. Levels are often battles fought uphill, and in life they can be infinite. There’s good work to be done, and there’s always a demand for it. We shouldn’t fool ourselves in thinking that the demand for doing good work is an external expectation. We should demand from ourselves to put out the best work we can, and continue to build on our successes with excitement for the maintenance and/or the new.
The ability to feel excitement or be excited about something is supposed to be a trait of a positive person. Being excited about something assumes that there is a positive expectation attached to whatever we are excited about. “It’s going to be great!” We’re going to see a World Series game! How excited are we when the team we’re rooting for gets slaughtered? How excited are we when the line for the roller coaster we specifically came to the amusement park is visible from space? How excited are when after waiting over three hours, they closed the ride for maintenance? How excited are we when buy tickets for the most talked-about Broadway show a year in advance, only to hear over the loud-speaker when we arrive at the theater that the lead role in today’s performance is being played by the understudy?
If expectation is the root of disappointment, excitement is then the fuel of expectation. Why not adopt the mindset of simply being opening to the experiences that come our way? Why taint our experiences with ruinous expectations? Whether we are excited or dreading an upcoming experience, our expectations are ruinous all the same. It’s like a trial lawyer leading the witness with a line of questioning. It’s trying to force an outcome. When we lead up to experiences with expectations, the experiences now has the pressure of living up to what our imaginations have created. Imagination is defined as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” The words “not present” stick out in that definition. Being present doesn’t require imagination. It requires a stillness of thought. Thoughts that are constantly trying to judge an experience as it unfolds are being good or bad. Should we be excited or disappointed right now? If we allow ourselves to be at the mercy of our expectations, we’ll forever be pendulums oscillating between extremes. We can still enjoy the game as it unfolds even if our team loses in the end. We can still enjoy the play even though the star we came to see didn’t perform. We can still enjoy the other rides and time spent with friends if we don’t get to ride the one ride we all came to the amusement park for.
Being excited about something sounds good. Being open to everything is good.
Several years ago, I heard a story about rattlesnakes evolving so that their tails no longer rattle. A quick Google search returned an article that provides evidence of how some rattlesnakes in South Dakota are evolving with atrophied tail muscles. The reason is rather simple. The rattle was meant to be a warning sign. “You are in danger – please move away from this rattling sound!” However, for those who hunt rattlesnakes, the rattle does not serve as a warning from the snake; it’s the target giving away its hiding place. The rattle becomes its death knell. The snake’s venom is meant to kill its natural prey – it’s not a weapon for war. It’s a signal of peace. The rattles is an aid in helping others avoid danger, neither a threat of nor an invitation to violence.
So, when reading/hearing about how some rattlesnakes are evolving away from their namesake, it sounds like the nearest thing to an identity crisis for a snake. But then, another realization. The rattlesnake did not give itself its name – we did! We’ve actually named everything that know has a definition. No thing has ever named itself. The monsters we fear the most, are monsters of our own definition. Therefore, it’s not at all weird for a rattlesnake to evolve to no longer rattle. That’s natural under the given circumstances of its environment. It’s only weird because what do we call rattlesnakes in the future if they all evolve to no longer rattle? Do we change their name to the Silent Shaker Snake? Do we continue to rename and redefine these snakes based on how they appear to us? We’ll likely never get the snakes’ insights on these matters.
Why do we feel the need to care so deeply about what other people do? Total strangers grouped together as either an “Us” or a “Them” and we overlook the obvious that most of our daily interactions include people from both sides. We are always a few questions away from being able to decipher who is “with us” or “against us” in our short-sighted minds. What does it say about how we must feel about ourselves, to exhaust so much energy trying to compartmentalize everyone we see, instead of examining why we feel it’s so urgent to “know” where someone belongs in relation to us?
Ignorance loves games made simple; when appearance alone is enough to sort things out. But ignorance lacks such grace in regards to its own self-awareness. When ignorance tries to hide, it fails to realize how it mimics an infant covering its eyes. When ignorance tries to seek, it fails to realize how it looks to itself for guidance, which is futile. Ignorance is a perpetual infant. Yes, what an incredible superpower it would be to be able to cover our eyes and become invisible. To be able to escape reality for a while with a simple gesture. If we never remove our hands from our eyes, we’ll never have to worry about what we can’t see. However, we’re missing the point that we don’t actually have any superpowers. We are human – just like everyone else!
When we cover our eyes and embrace our false invisibility, we fail to see that everyone else sees us for what we’re choosing to do. By doing so, we never let people see what we’re capable of being, and let it be known in the process that we only seem capable of being duped by the same level of trickery that makes an infant marvel. Should we use this as a source of pride? By the time most infants become toddlers and enter kindergarten, they’ve discovered that playing peek-a-boo is just a game. The world of the hidden has been revealed. Their ignorance has been replaced with basic intelligence and rationale thought. As adults, there is no excuse for us not to be constantly reaching towards enlightenment that corresponds with our age. Yet, society seems to provide daily instances of how many of us choose to revel in the pride felt during infancy, and wear ignorance as a badge of honor. Once we leave the comforts of blissfully ignorant toddlerhood behind, we’re always old enough know better.