It’s possible to get so ensnared in the inertia of output that it feels impossible to stop. Everything in life is snowballing. It feels as if there’s no time or money or resources for anything that might help or might feel good. Letting go of one ball feels like dropping them all. Not moving at 100 mph feels like completely giving up on being remarkable.
It is a tempting fantasy at such times to just want to quit everything . Sell off everything you own, pack up a bag, and disappear from your day-to-day life, for awhile. It’s not that you’re suicidal (and if you are and that’s how you found your way to this particular post, please carefully review all of these resources, because your life does matter and it’s only the sadness talking–lying to you–convincing you otherwise).
No, in this post I’m talking about those times where the keeping-on just gets exhausting. You look around, you think, “Wait. I’m not ‘depressed’ exactly but when did life become…this work-work-work thing? Or when did I stop feeling adventurous and spontaneous? Is this really all there is?”
The impulse to stop and just quit everything is a strong one. It’s a child-like desire to just wipe the decks clean and start anew (as if our pasts aren’t going to come with us).
But then, there’s this:
“Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.” –Pema Chodron
Because when we are ready to just sell off all of our material positions and quit everything, the underlying desire is to bolt. And that inclination to bolt might have something to teach us.
What if there was a way that you could just quit everything …without exactly quitting everything?
I think that most of us need to look at our inclinations to bolt as a sign to just stop. Quite literally: stop. Lay down. Lay down on the floor, stop the activity, stop pursuing the to-do list, stop.
But I’m not talking about hiding out from the world or checking out. I’m talking about stopping…and getting deeply, deeply curious.
This is scary to do. That’s why it’s courageous to do it.
When one just stops in the midst of all of that flurry, you’re likely to experience an actual physical sensation of fear. Ego knows something’s up. It’s the fear mechanism kicking in, going, “Whoa–you are handling this differently. You’re not doing all the things you normally do when life feels intense, like disconnecting and numbing out. You’re…paying attention and getting present and very-very still. What’s going on?”
So…you stare into space. That’s it. I used to do it by turning off all the lights and watching a lone candle flicker against the wall while listening to music. You could also just sit in your car in a parking lot and watch people. Or you could go to a church and sit in an empty pew. Or you could sit on your porch. Or you could lay on your floor and stare at the ceiling.
You stop. You drop. You just get still.
The next thing that’s likely to happen is some voice will say, “Hey, did you remember to…?” and it’ll be something you’ve forgotten to do five times already, so you tell yourself, “I’ll get up now, because if I don’t I won’t remember that later.”
Don’t get up. Just lay there.
Watch and observe yourself. Stay with your thoughts. Just be with what you notice.
The next thing that might happen is you start rehashing an argument in your head. Then you’re likely to feel sad. Lay there. Cry. Get up only if the snot situation gets out of hand. Then blow your nose and lay back down and keep staying curious.
When you are still for long enough, a question you’ve felt really stuck on will arise and the answer will be right there, completely obvious and completely okay. Or you’ll have an insight about your life that feels really true and resonant.
When you start to feel like maybe the world isn’t so bad, and you’re going to make it after all, it’s time to get up. Bring the curiosity with you. And any time it starts to feel like too much and you just want to quit everything , again, return to that courageous stillness.
The Tricky Part
The Tricky Part of all of this is convincing oneself to actually do it–to sit, get still, and wait, and not get tossed off by the next idea or plan that comes to you.
I was always amazed by how many ideas would come to me when I was sitting zazen regularly with a Zen Buddhist community. I don’t mean that those ideas came to me, later–I mean that I was sitting there, trying to concentrate on my breath and instead suddenly all the ideas in the world would flood their way in. It was just distraction; the ideas worth savoring would occur to me off the cushion, as well.
Sometimes when I’m really busy, or one of my coaching clients is really busy, I’ll offer the practice of asking: What is all of the busy stuff covering up or hiding?
I’ll offer that question to you, now, because there is such enormous benefit in getting still with ourselves and seeing where we’re putting energy into covering up or hiding, especially because sometimes what we’re hiding is our best and brightest selves, the selves who have more patience, compassion, joy, pleasure, passion for living.
Sometimes “doing” isn’t the thing that needs to happen next for us to live big, bold, bright lives. Sometimes–oftentimes–what is needed is getting quiet and still, in whatever way you can.