Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - May 2022
“Exhaustion is not a status symbol.” – Brené Brown
We’re a society of action … always busy, doing things, working hard, being productive, staying in control. We do this because we were taught to. We’re so programmed that it’s “the way life is” that we even take these ideas with us on vacation … and we teach them to our children, so they learn to get stuff done, too. Being taught achievement is what matters, we become motivated … either by duty (I’m supposed to do it) or by fear (what happens if I don’t do it). This leaves us stressed, anxious and overwhelmed … from all the [unnatural] “trying.”
Consider how our teachings create the path we walk (you may find it helpful to re-trace this path so as to discover your ownexperience of it all). Our learned obsession with working hard and getting things done has led us to an unconscious (but false) belief that drives much of our life: “things are not OK as they are, so I need to make them OK” … which leads us to seeing life as an obstacle (that isn’t there) … which leads to trying (to overcome the elusive obstacle) … which leads to stress (because we can’t resolve a non-existent problem) … which leads to more trying (as if it were a matter of effort to begin with) … which leaves us blind to the existence of other choices … which, of course, keeps us stuck in, even justifying, our trying … to the point of seeing the resultant exhaustion as evidence we’re on the right track. (It’s not; it’s wasted energy.) Seems we also fail to notice that we rarely do get it all done. All the while, it’s not the work that stresses us; it’s the trying. Yet we miss that, too.
Thusly fixated on results, we miss any experience of the process that creates results … a process that continually offers us messages, (which we also miss), telling us how things are going, suggesting what might come next (now, for real, not in some world of what we think should be). It’s called feedback, and it’s an inherent aspect of all living systems (the universe, too). Every living system listens, and responds, to this flow of information. Except us. As determined as we are, we’re neither looking nor listening; we’re trying. Trying is not a conscious choice you make to deal with challenges, but an unconscious reaction to anxietyyou feel when things don’t go your way.
Life is uncertain; we’re off track most of the time. That’s the way life is. Our creative genius is meant to embrace the potential uncertainty offers, so we might enjoy what we do, not to see life’s challenges as problems to be solved. It’s entirely possible to stop the fight, then look, listen and learn … and be wildly productive and happy. Original cultures lived this way; many cultures still do. Only our obsession with achievement keeps us from the potential.
What if we could learn to listen to our world instead of trying so hard to control it? It’s how birds fly in formations; it’s how trees collectively combat would-be invasive bugs; it’s how flowers “know” when to bloom in spring; it’s how creosote bushes in the desert line up as if planted … a way to use all available water. Why are we the only species to deny this free, stress-free, reliable and constructive flow of information? Possible answers: (1) we think we’re smarter than we are, smarter than nature, so we can therefore control things; (2) we are afraid of life’s uncertainty, so instead of seeing it as opportunity, we deny it and fight it off; (3) we come from generations of those who’ve taught us bad lessons, and it’s easier to go along with them than to think for ourselves. There are probably many other possibilities. But even with these three, consider (perhaps for the first time) the results of each. No matter which you look at, we’ve both misidentified the “enemy” … and we’re failing.
Had we been taught that happiness is what matters rather than achievement, we’d be motivated not by fear or by trying, but instead by creative genius (I want to do it). It’s curious, because when/if we focus on process, creativity and enjoyment, then we experience happiness – in the doing and in the results. Productivity improves while stress and “trying” fall away. Despite that your unconscious mind, fueled by old lessons, may be telling you all this is impossible, it’s exactly what happens when self-trust and inner truth fuel the journey. Better, the only missing ingredient here is awareness. Why, then, does all of this continue to elude most? If that includes you, are you willing to find out?
Exercise: I was exhausted (for 25 years of adult life), until I one day realized I was also ineffective. Together, a waste. Big realization. Trying wasn’t working. Trying was opposite of what I needed. What got me past obstacles was new perspectives. Those come not from trying, but from stopping … stepping back, noticing more, seeing things in new ways. From that place, not only did obstacles melt into the bigger picture, but I was afforded the opportunity to listen to feedback life offered me – for free. I’ve always been connected with nature; but it took me a while to see how all along she was teaching me everything I needed to know.
It could work for you, too, if you could allow it. In fact, it would work just fine if you didn’t block it, by trying so damned hard (even if unconsciously) to fight life’s natural flow. Trying interrupts this feedback, and therefore your ability to shift your perspective. If you hold tightly to your need to control, you miss this potential altogether.
So, as you encounter obstacles this month, no matter the size or context, see if you can stop, notice the obstacle, then step back, even for a moment. If only as an experiment, ask a new question: What can this situation teach me … about my perspective, about other choices, about what’s possible? A practice of noticing will gradually shift your perspective – naturally, without effort. As you learn to listen to life rather than fight with life, you’ll see that you can allow it to work out, which takes far less energy and is far more effective than trying to make it work out.
Life Lessons from Nature: Nature creates everything with its own unique identity. Nothing is better or worse than anything else. Only our judgment makes this so. Judgment leaves us seeing something as “wrong,” and gives rise to the “need” to fix it … to make it “right.” Nature doesn’t buy this nonsense. With no right or wrong and no judgment, nature has no need for stress. If one of her creations “works,” she makes more of it. If it doesn’t work, it gets selected out. Each thing has a place. It belongs. It simply is. With that, all it needs to “do” is to be what it is. Listening to feedback takes care of the rest. It’s how life, and evolution, have worked, for billions of years. We might learn to do/be this as well.
Book of the month: The Book of Hope, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. A “conversation” between the two (he did the same with the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy), in which Jane expresses the foundations of the hope she experiences for our future. It rests, she says, on 4 pillars: (1) the amazing human intellect, (2) resilience of nature, (3) the power of young people and (4) the indomitable human spirit. A fascinating and deeply personal look into the life and consciousness of one of the world’s great naturalists, opening us to what she’s experienced in her eight-plus decades … about nature, about the earth, about humanity, about the human spirit – and about hope for the potential the future may hold. If you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.