It’s been a varied week of teaching, but, as with the topic of my last newsletter, expansion, there is another theme that crops up in all my teaching: subtraction. In every class, you’ll find me asking you to soften, to release, to expand, even in effort. The idea behind this is that we usually work harder than we need to and, in so doing, are actually getting in our own way. Doing less so that we can expand helps shed the unnecessary and often detracting effort we bring to the way we work.
For Its Own Sake
Even before the start of the pandemic, I think the relationship many of us have to work was shifting from something that we do to something that we are. More and more our lives become oriented toward work and productivity. Everything we do has to have a purpose, and if it doesn’t, we question why we’re doing it. When that mindset bleeds over into our non-working lives, we run the risk of burning out. With the pandemic, that mindset becomes easier and easier to slip into. For many of us, the pandemic has increased the amount of stress around work: the finding of it, the doing of it, and the keeping of it. For a large group of the population, our daily commutes have gone from driving or taking public transportation to our workplace to walking from one side of the room to the other to get on the computer. All of this makes it far too easy for a productivity mindset to consume the way we live our lives.
There are a few ways of combating this encroaching mindset. An extremely powerful one is to devote more time to process, to enjoying doing things for the sake of it, without furthering any productivity agenda you might have ticking away in the back of your mind. A great way to access this process mindset is by taking a yoga class, or an Alexander Technique class or lesson. Yes, these classes have the long-term effect of reducing stress and keeping you fit, but the focus of the class or lesson is always to bring you back to the present, to what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it. And you can apply this approach to anything: a hobby, a craft, reading, journaling, cooking, etc.. Spending time engaging in something simply for the pleasure of it is an essential part of nourishing yourself.
A Practice Challenge: Do It For Its Own Sake
This week, my challenge for you is to pick something that you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with your work and to do it regularly, every day this week if possible. If you have more than one activity you’d like to do, you can set yourself the challenge of doing one of your activities every day. Here are some steps you can take to set yourself up:
- Choose: Choose an activity that is unrelated to your work, and that isn’t too difficult. Approaching something difficult is wonderful and necessary to our development, but for the purpose of the challenge choose something that’s easy for you to do.
- Schedule: Be proactive about the challenge. Decide in advance on an amount of time each day that you can devote to it that will be easy to fit into your schedule. Perhaps half an hour or an hour.
- Disconnect: When the time comes to enjoy your activity, be sure to disconnect from everything else you have going on. Do something concrete to remove yourself: turn off your computer and put your phone on “do not disturb,” go to another room, do constructive rest, or sit quietly for five minutes. A simple, formal intention to end what you’re doing to start your activity will help you let go of the many things that can demand your attention in your day.
- Enjoy it: It may seem silly to say it explicitly, but the pleasure that comes with enjoyment is essential.
How I’ll Take Up The Challenge
My activity this week will be reading. Reading fiction is one of my great pleasures. I’m never more centered than when I’m in the middle of a good book, but since the pandemic began, I’ve become a very fussy reader. The list of books I want to read grows longer and longer, which has become increasingly daunting, and when I do pick up a book, I feel like I could be reading something else that would be more satisfying. As a result, I find I read less and less. I’ve been attempting, and failing, at this challenge for the past month, but I am going to buckle down and take it seriously with the rest of you. I have three books I’m interested in reading at the moment. For the next week, every day, I will disconnect for an hour and read, allowing myself permission to bounce around between the three books as my fancy leads me. I’m really looking forward to it!
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!