Tuesday 28 May 2019

Guilt about Doing Nothing.

Why do we feel guilt about doing nothing?  About sitting for a whole afternoon and having nothing to show for it?  Even potting plants in the garden is better than sitting on the sofa.  Even washing up, or making soda bread, or writing lists has something to show for the time spent on it.  But sitting on cushions, drinking tea and drifting online, or on my phone, or listening to my talking books, or all of them at once, has no results.  I can't tick them off a list.  I can't say to my friends, well - at least today I worked on a painting/made a big decision/spoke to someone important/cleaned behind the piano.  I have only the passing of time and the setting of the sun to tell me that the day is nearly over and I am still oblivious to the world outside.

Perhaps that is the point of the doing absolutely nothing.  Being oblivious of the world outside.  These days I need to disengage, and to find a nice place to go to inside my head.  I can be lost in someone else's world on YouTube, I can live vicariously through my talking books, I can skim along the surface of life by asking questions online like, why is Bognor called Bognor?   It is a relief to think - Oh now it is time to stop all this thinking and doing and organising and planning and so on, now is the time to sit down and opt out.

I do a great deal of opting out.  Now that I am a grandma, now that my role has moved on from mother, young person, artist on the move, I haven't the same calls on my time.  There isn't that frantic hustle and especially, there is less worry and more sleep.  This morning I realise that I spend a lot of time sleeping, or at least lying down, and that it is rare that anything disturbs me enough to stop it.  Our human nature gives us a wonderful and complex brain, and a mind that not only thinks of good things, but thinks of bad things too.  So sometimes I am disturbed by worries and feelings of unease, and that is all part of being alive. It doesn't make me get out of bed at night or feel I need to do anything till the morning.  My bed is very comfortable, my bedroom is beautiful, filled with lovely things and colours so that it is a pleasure to be in there.  I couldn't do that when I had young children.  They were all in my bed anyway, it was the only way we got any sleep.

So what about the guilt.  Oh that happens if I am drifting when I plan a day in the studio painting and I don't quite get there.  It happens when I sit down to be productive and all I can think of is baked potatoes with butter.  The awkward feeling of time running out and the hopelessness of ever achieving anything hits me when I put on my overalls, walk into the studio, and get caught up in my Instagram stories.  And then, before I know it, I have drifted off into that lovely state of mind where time passes, I am very content, and then aware that there is less time to work on my painting and it is all my fault.  Then, I remember how well everyone else seems to be doing, and I feel sad that I am now not one of them.  This morning, I could have been.  This afternoon, I am not.

I have been thinking about this difficulty of making time work for us, of our judgements about it, and how it is a mark of honour to have too little of it and a problem to have too much.  And when various spiritual teachers tell us that we are human beings, not a human doings, we get what they mean but we think - Oh but they don't understand. It's different for us, we say, things are different for us.  Perhaps, though, we have made time into a dreadful friend, a friend who bullies us and cannot be satisfied, and yet we love it.  And hate it.  And love to hate it.  Our difficulties with lack of time have, after all, helped us feel important and given us a currency by which we can judge our feelings of worth and belonging.  I accept that busyness is not going to stop, and busyness in itself is not a problem.  The problem is when it becomes a way to avoid facing ourselves and becomes an end in itself, like an addiction. I accept that it is great fun to be caught up in a whirligig of things to do, places to go, people to meet, deadlines to beat.  I know how wonderful it is when so much is happening and somehow nothing can succeed without us and there is that feeling of being indispensable.  It is intoxicating to not have time even to eat, to find the only way you can fit in your next client is the two minutes you set aside to get a sandwich for lunch.  It is a powerful pull to answer that call late at night, to check your emails in the early hours, to rush about and to be seen to rush about.  I have done it, it made me feel important and one of the gang.  I felt that if there was a film crew following me they would say Yes!  She's one of the players!  See, she is so busy and she is doing so much!  We can't keep up!

It's great fun. Until it is not.  Until it is not fun any more, and then, we do not know how to slow down, how to stop, and we do not know how the world will turn if we cannot go on.  It is personal.  We have failed.  We can't maintain this way of being, everyone else can (it seems) and we are on the road to oblivion and failure. There are many times we enter the dark night of the soul, and this may be one of them.  What, in my case, I did not do, was know who I was in the quiet moments.  I avoided the quiet moments because I felt I did not exist if I was not moving.

Too little time means we cannot stop to take stock and also gains us a perverse respect.  (Who is this successful indispensable person that other people need so much?  Who must have powers and talents that I, who have more time, must be lacking?)  Too little time is impossible to maintain. If there are free moments, they are filled at once, because that is all we know.  And then, there is that old guilt again, about doing nothing.  About having time to fill.  What does it mean?  What does it say about us?  What if, in the little bit of time that is sagging around us, someone else gets the prize and we were not quick enough?

Too much time is as bad as too little.  Too much of anything is unbalanced.  Perhaps, with too much time, we sink into what we fear and feel there is no point in doing anything anyway.  We fear we have no worth, we fear we are not enough when there are no distractions and no props. Too much or too little of anything is not good.

Up till only a few years ago, I was conflicted about who I was and what I wanted to be, rushing about trying to do and be it all.  Then, one after another, three of my closest people died and I was forced sit with myself in what felt like total emptiness for a long, long time.  I felt as if I had fallen off the edge of the known world, and had to begin again.  I sat still for days at a time watching the play of light on the wall opposite me as the day passed, doing nothing at all but looking at the changing light as it moved.  Somehow I survived, and life went on.  I had to look at who I thought I was, and who I thought I was not, and to begin the long slow process of getting to know myself as I really am.  There was no choice. I had abandoned the outside world and had shut myself off from everything.  What was left was, simply, me.  Sink or swim.  I understood that even the choice to sink could only take me so far down and until I was dead myself, there was still life.  And so, I began to choose life.

My focus is also on more tea.
My focus now is in creativity and healing work, and though that still feels like a lot, the relief is enormous.  I don't need to do all the other stuff any more (I can't remember what it was that I was so busy doing now.  I used to have ten ideas an hour, tried to implement all of them, and tumble into confusion and exhaustion all the time).  Healing and soul midwife work take a huge amount of energy and I accept that I need a lot of time to recover and recharge.  Painting time needs managing too, but the joy of being creative means we express it all the time anyway, in how we live - what we wear, how we cook, what we do with our surroundings. I build time for absolute nothing into my diary and sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Of course, I still get caught up in the whirligigs, but I am aware that there must be recovery time or I will become loopy and my children will put me in the same care home as my father.

All this is a bit different to feeling guilty when I cannot prevent myself from spending a whole day gazing into the garden and thinking about doughnuts.  My guilt comes from having made a plan to do something, something work related, and yet having no power to make myself do it.  But writing this blog, and thinking about it all, I am struck by how therapeutic these drifty days are.  And even if I have four of them back to back, I am beginning to think that four drifty days are exactly what I need to be my most calm, grounded, prepared and focused for my end of life clients as a soul midwife, and an artist extraordinaire for my painting clients.  I like my own company now, after spending time with myself after my falling off the edge of the world; a very different set up to before, when nothing could convince me that I was not a total nut nut and no one could ever like me.

So back now to coping with guilt when time passes and nothing seems to be achieved. Well, I think I have to change my mind about it and enjoy it.  Life goes on whether I while away the days or not.  Somehow, things still get done.  And the joy of watching the grass grow, the light change on the wall, letting myself drift as the hours go by, is good for me.  Like now, it is nearly 11 am and I am in my pyjamas, I have a painting to finish and a soul midwife visit to do.  I can do that, all in good time, but right now, I want to watch the peonies bloom until it is time to get dressed and go.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Into the vacuum, comes fear.

For a while, I have been under a cloud.  The cloud was not black, it was dark grey, and it moved like mist so that I could never really see it.  I have resources, I am strong, I know how to look after myself but this cloud was clever,  It sidled up to me and wound itself around me with such subtlety that I can't remember when the light around me changed.  There was a heaviness now, and a quiet sense of doom.  There was a worry in my stomach that should not have been there.  I couldn't name the worry and the sense of things being badly wrong would not lift.

I knew the source of this cloud.  This dark grey mist.  I have met it before and I suspect I will meet it many times in the future.  But the sense of powerlessness this time seemed different.  I struggled to make sense of what this all meant, and in the middle of it, I could not articulate to myself what I was so afraid of, and how there seemed to be no way through this mist.

I formed a plan.  I told a friend, and she was supportive and understanding.  This plan felt impossible to do, and yet it had to be done.  I could see difficulties before it, during it and after it.  I could see that I may be unable to carry it out.  It worried me.  It had to be done, it had to be done this way.  If it was done this way, I would feel better.  I may be released from the cloud.

And then, last night, longing for some relief, I sat in a quiet chair, and asked someone, something, out there, for guidance.  I will meditate on this, I thought.  I meditated into blackness.  I meditated into nothing, and nothing happened.  It was as if the power of the dark grey mist had shut out the light and nothing I could do would find a way through it.  There is no hope, I said.

But when I woke this morning, something had shifted.  There was a decision to be made.  Perhaps I could make a choice.  What do I choose?  Do I choose the plan I felt could not be done, or do I choose something else?  If I choose something else, will it matter?  What would happen if I changed my mind?  And what if, instead of the consequences being dire, they were kinder, and less stressful?

I realised then that fear that was keeping the light away.  My plan, the mist, the cloud, the sense of doom, was a reaction to fear, the whole situation was the result of fear.  So if I changed my plan, changed my mind, what then?  Well - it didn't matter.  The plan would never have worked, it was fiercely dependent on me getting my own way despite everyone else.  I was afraid and it clouded my judgement.  

There is no judgement though, if I change my mind, make a different choice, see the way the fear was blocking my compassion.  When I saw that my fear was keeping me away from people, was causing me to forget their needs, was allowing me to create a story about them that was distorted - I chose to let go, to say to myself, it really doesn't matter - it really doesn't, this plan is causing distress and a better plan is to ask what would really work, and see the stress and the imagined consequences evaporate.  What can I do, I asked the people concerned, to help you?  I have changed my mind, I said, and we no longer have to follow this path.  The simplicity of the way forward was always there.  There is a new plan, and it is flexible, and I have survived.  Nothing happened.  Except peace and kindness have returned.

The cloud had gone tonight.  I am released and there is no problem.  There are difficulties, yes, but they are not a problem.  When I asked what I could do to help, the light came back, and the answer was simple.  I had forgotten to love.  I had forgotten to love them, and then myself.  Into that vacuum came fear.  From fear came wrong decisions, loneliness, disconnection and the forgetting that when love is the basis of all our choices, somehow, there is strength and there is connection. 

But I acknowledge that in order to remember this, I had to forget it.  It is the experience of forgetting and all that goes with it, that makes the remembering all the more profound.  The thing is, I may not have remembered and come to this understanding.  The miracle here is that I did remember, and I am very mindful of power and simplicity of this lesson.  

And so, this evening, I am sitting on my bed, with a supper I really wanted to eat, and the sun shining through my window.  I have a scented candle that makes me smile with pleasure, and a new talking book to listen to when I have finished this blog.  I am happy, and I am free.  The sun shone through my window on other evenings, I lit this scented candle yesterday, and I had another talking book before this one.  The difference tonight is that love has come back.  I have made a kind decision.  It is making the sun more lovely, the candle more scented, and my talking book more exciting.

I have a passion for steamed veg, butter and garlic.  Yum.