Is it possible to feel good at the same time as getting shit done?
This New Year I stood round a bonfire at a wonderful Buddhist retreat in the English countryside and made an intention to ‘combine doing with love’ in 2019.
While I can tap into a great sense of love and well-being when I meditate on the cushion or dance to a great piece of music, I tend to separate my ‘love and goodwill’ time from my ‘get shit done’ time. There’s ‘work’ which needs to be got through, and then there’s ‘pleasure’ which is all too often, deferred.
A split-personality society
There’s a long tradition of this kind of split in our world, no doubt based on hundreds of years of capitalism and Puritan work ethic. We’ve all heard stories of ruthless business people and politicians who go to church on a Sunday and save up their love and compassion for those two hours a week. Bertolt Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan features a woman forced to adopt a split personality by the ruthless pressures of the capitalist system. But even those working for social good can split off those parts of themselves, getting so caught up in the urgency of the cause that they sacrifice their own well-being and that of those around them.
But if we can only be truly nice to ourselves and others on the days a week when we’re not busy working, what kind of society does that entail?
Breaking free of the split
I don’t want to follow this long destructive tradition. I’m beginning to believe that being able to breathe and love myself and others in the midst of life’s fire-fighting is potentially one of the most radical things I can do to make a better world – for me and those around me, and hopefully wider afield.
But it’s a long-ingrained habit to defer love and joy. Because I’m curious and engaged in the world, I always have a list of shit that needs doing. All too often, as my time gets squeezed and I’m trying to get through the list, the love element disappears.
I defer it – I’ll be nice to myself or allow myself to feel good once this job’s done. Sometimes, I even make my bladder wait until I get the damn thing done. My determination and focus helps me achieve, but at what cost to my well-being and those around me?
It sounds so simple and obvious a change to make but it can be very hard for me to do, especially when I have pressing deadlines and too much work in my day job. And outside work, I’m involved in many different activities.
Ways to escape
I know that in order to ‘do’ with love I’m going to have to find a way to be more aware in the moment; to say ‘no’ more often; to delegate more often; to trust more often; and to get better at reclaiming my time so I feel I have more of it.
I came across this wonderful quote by David Whyte (his book Consolations) that nails the conundrum:
“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be”
Feeling irritable and joyless is going to be my cue to remember a great ‘mantra’ for myself:
- Right task? (Does this task really need doing?)
- Right person? (Am I the right person for this task? Would it be better done by someone else?)
- Right time? (Is this the right time to do it?)
- Right place? (Is this the best location to do this task?)
I came across this ‘mantra’ years ago and it’s just popped back into my mind as a useful tool. I’m now trying to use my mindfulness practice to be more aware of: what does my body and soul need in this moment and can I give it that, if only in some small way?
One month in, I’m already noticing a difference. While it still seems counter-intuitive and inefficient to pause right in the heat of trying to solve a problem, I’m noticing that by cutting myself some slack (giving myself some love) I’ve often been able to find a better and more satisfying solution.