It’s hard for me to relax. I’m competitive, focused, and task oriented. If I say I am going to take the day off to do “nothing”, that means I will actually be at home doing things from my To Do list. I feel good when I mark things off of the list. And I seem to struggle with doing things that I enjoy without feeling guilty, shameful even, and feeling that I should be doing something “more productive”. Oh, to make matters worse, I also have a tendency to over-commit myself, creating the urgent need to be as efficient as I can with my time. And giving me the excuse of not being ‘able’ to chill out and do nothing.
I really do recognize the importance of rest and relaxation for health and lately, I seem to be getting reminders of this more and more frequently. The more I study Ayurveda and feeling healthy in my own body, the more I recognize that sometimes a recommendation to relax is a prescription to be taken very seriously. And sometimes, the Universe is the treating physician.
In the Ayurvedic tradition of seasonal cleansing, I recently led (and participated in) a cleanse to help clear out the heat built up in the body during to prepare for the dry cold that winter is bringing. (This was not a restrictive and punishing process- the cleanse is really focused on simplification and self-care.) During the cleanse, I was reminded of the importance of cutting back on commitments, responsibilities, activities. Cleansing can take a lot of energy as we are typically reducing the energy intake with the changes of the diet. As the cleansing practice progresses, it is easy to find both the body and the mind tired as the entire system is processing out old junk that is no longer needed, such as excess weight, negative thoughts, or past issues that haven’t been dealt with.
After advising others to reduce commitments, a little voice in my head responded to this advice in the usual way… “yeah, yeah, I know, cut back, ok…”, and then I had the impulse to continue on with everything on my schedule as it would normally appear. Because I can do everything ever all of the time, right? And if I slow down or cut back, I will be wasting time when I could be more productive…
This brings me to my point. The Universe has a plan and it uses many different signs to let us know what direction we need to be heading on our path. When the Universe tells me something and I don’t listen, it tends to take control and make it happen regardless of my silly little headstrong opinion. And when the Universe steps in to make things happen, it’s typically not as smooth and painless as it might have been if the instructions were followed the first time around.
So, because I did not initially plan to simplify my schedule myself, the Universe decided to intervene. When I went the office to meet with my counseling clients in private practice, they would just not show up. Over and over. (And you know it’s never the last client that doesn’t show. It’s one in the middle of the schedule.) And when I went to lead group therapy online, someone else would already be leading a group that I thought I was scheduled for. (These people are all forcing me to be still and do nothing. How dare they!) And finally, when I still wasn’t really getting the picture, (the real whammy) I got sick and I was forced to stop and do a whole lot of nothing.
Ok, maybe I am a little hard-headed. (I can hear them now- my mom and my husband just said “A LITTLE?!”) And the learning curve is sharp when you don’t pay attention to the signs.
But, let’s take a look at why this is a pattern for me: The guilt and shame that bubble up when I am being ‘non-productive’.
One of my favorite people and an amazing researcher on shame and its effects on us, Brene’ Brown, presents a wonderful intervention in her work as she describes the idea of using permission slips to allow ourselves to let go of our expectations and limitations in a situation. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she also outlines the idea of “letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth”. (She is one of my favorites for a reason.)
For someone like me, the idea of a permission slip is brilliant idea as it would be for ‘just this once‘ and would not carry the gravity of the idea of slowing down forever. It’s a way to ease in and train myself into allowing times of play, fun, and enjoyment. I have to remember that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It may make Jack dull, but it makes Kelly stressed out, frustrated, tired, and irritable. And the more time I take for rest and play, the better I feel. (What a shock, I know!!)
Brene’ talks about work by Dr. Stuart Brown on play and she reports that his work shows how play “shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation”. (Brown 2010) She also talks about how play and rest are both crucial to our happiness and ultimately our productivity levels. She reports on how our society trains some of us into anxiety when we feel we are not being productive and how this is turning us into “a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children” and “we think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning”. (Brown 2010)
The yogic teaching of Aparigraha (non-grasping), we are directed to try to let go of expecting things outside of us to bring joy. This can be seen in the accumulation of things or the expectations we place on others and situations to fulfill us. And the yogic teaching of Svadhyaya (self-study) reminds us that we are not our accomplishments or our past. We are the amazing spirit that lives inside of our bodies on this journey.
I do not believe that we are here to be stressed out, tired, irritable, and to have no fun. I just forget that sometimes. I am learning to give myself permission to do less. And as I do so, I am also learning to think of it as productive and healing. I am shifting my view that doing less means I am being lazy. Sometimes, it is exactly what the body needs so that internal work can be done. I am also learning to recognize that I don’t always know best and I don’t have to always be the one in control doing the work. I am learning that if I don’t listen to my body and see the signs of what I really need, I will be even less in control of how things go. My permission slips are my own little signs to myself to slow down, listen, relax, and have a little down time.
So, this week, I invite you to give yourself a break. Take a few deep breaths, do something you enjoy, spend time with someone close to you. You will feel better.
I am going to be practicing right along side you.
Talk again soon,