I don’t know what kind of family you grew up in but mine was pretty busy. I don’t think we got positive feedback for sitting around doing nothing (if that happened, we were usually complaining of being bored and that meant it was time to go outside and play or do something productive). That pattern is certainly not unique to my Scandinavian family. The Protestant work ethic that came to North America with our hard working ancestors still has a big influence on all of us. It has it’s pros and cons.
I have a program in my unconscious mind that appears regularly to tell me there is something I should get done from that never ending to-do list. I do enjoy puttering and getting things done. And those messages can get out of balance when they override the need to simply be at other times.
When summer rolls around, I intentionally inject being time into my life. I slow my schedule way down and leave room for things to emerge that I might not otherwise make time for. I love the freedom and space that gives me to hang out, be with friends, be in nature and let the universe decide what’s next and the paradox is that I often feel a bit lost when I don’t have things on my schedule. I’m used to my full life. Does that ever happen to you?
It takes me a while to settle into not doing and go with the flow of what arises rather than having things planned. It can also be hard after a slower time to get back into a more scheduled life. It can be challenging to strike a balance between doing and being in this culture.
Most people in our culture get rewarded for being busy, for contributing and working hard. Patterns that tip the scale towards doing and away from being get perpetuated through feel-good biochemical hits. When you reward yourself of get rewarded for working hard and doing (or anything else for that matter whether it serves you well or not), feel-good neurohormones like dopamine (a neurotransmitter that can act like a hormone) get released in your body. These chemicals do a great job of encouraging you to do more of whatever you were doing. (You might be interested to know that there are also biochemical rewards for eating savory foods that contain glutamate like fish, shellfish, cured meats, mushrooms, broths and fermented products. These foods trigger the 5th taste sense called “Umami” that is very satisfying.)
Biochemical reward mechanisms are based in survival. Ancient parts of human brains encourage people to eat enough high calorie nourishing food, stick with their tribe and reject those seen as ‘the others’. Humans are encouraged to reproduce and stay safe by not sticking your head out or going out on a limb.
You get rewarded when you play it safe. You also get rewarded with a dopamine hit when you hold to your beliefs (no matter what they are). That’s why people on either side of an issue can feel good about holding to their position. The chemical hit reinforces the idea that you are right and the other is wrong. Oh the wonderful feeling of self-righteousness is hard to beat!
Think about what you were rewarded for as a child. Did anyone reward you for doing nothing? Were you praised for hard work? How do you feel now as an adult when you have unscheduled time on your hands? Are you able to do nothing? Are there any sorts of foods that leave you feeling satisfied like no other? When do you crave them?
Lately, I’ve been practicing rewarding myself for relaxing, and being (thanks Matt Kahn for the idea). This past weekend, I knew I had some things to get done, like writing this newsletter and getting things organized for work in the fall. But I just didn’t feel like it. It was hot and I was in the middle of a good novel (“Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline for those of you that need some reasons to sit and read when there are other ‘more productive’ things to do). So I sat on my back porch in the shade sipping some of my spectacular (non-alcoholic!) fermented beverages (that reward through Umami) and reading chapter after chapter. When the discomfort of “you should be doing something better with your time” came up, I talked to myself. “You are so good at sitting, reading and relaxing. Good job. You are awesome at this and it’s good for you and for the world.” What I noticed each time I rewarded myself for not doing was that I felt so much better about what I was doing and I enjoyed it even more.
I also had a lovely experience this summer of being in silence in the company of others. Every summer, I organize a longer women’s sea kayaking trip. This summer, an amazing beingness happened in the Broughton Archipelago on our trip. There were 5 of us together and we were all comfortable sitting together in silence for hours at a time. Nobody needed to fill the space and we simply sat and gazed out at the ocean in each other’s company. That is a rare gift and so calming for the central nervous system. Thanks my friends for that profound gift and for the healing it gave me and this busy stressed out world.
Matt Kahn and many other spiritual teachers and guides are speaking about the shift we are all in the process of making from 3rd dimensional consciousness to 5th. According to Kahn, at the 5th dimension, you know longer need to clear all the crap you’ve been carrying around. You no longer need to try to let things go. The 5th dimensional approach is to affirm that everything you are doing; you are doing well, just the way you should.
Believe it or not, you can complement yourself for how good you are at being judgmental, angry, jealous, or whatever is happening (keep sarcasm out of it!—be as genuine as possible). “My goodness, you are good at judgment, very skilled and talented at it. Superb judging. You are one amazing judge.” “You’re awesome at being angry. Masterful in fact. You have this anger thing down pat. You’re nailed it. Well done.”
Have you noticed that trying to shut down what you don’t think you are doing well enough by criticizing yourself doesn’t work to change it? Try a new way for a change. Compliment yourself for everything you do, whether you judge it as good or bad. And take some time to be still and quiet, to be every day. It doesn’t have to be formal meditation. In fact, if you have done meditation regularly for a long time, maybe it’s time to make a change there. Doing things differently is what makes neuroplastic change in your brain. Let go of wherever you are stuck and do something differently. Let me know what happens. You might just find me on the back porch with a glass of Kombucha and a good book in hand.