I should drag out the trash for pick-up. I should learn new tech tricks. I should Facetime with my kids and grandkids. I should contact frail folks in town. I should sign up for that sugar de-tox on-line class. I should spring clean and clutter-clear. I should answer those texts. I should call my sister. I should email former students and clients. I should join four Zoom gatherings. I should wash the windows.
My skittering morning thought loop pushes such goals and objectives before my feet untangle from the sheets and hit the carpet.
We have time in isolation. Shouldn’t we hurry, get organized, check off tasks? Shouldn’t we move something forward? A project? Finish that book we swore we’d read?
To step into the life changes we’ll need when the world starts to open, I wonder about all this “shoulding on ourselves.” Where on earth do these go-go-go voices come from? Or maybe these must-do, have-to, marching orders come from another planet. I’m also curious if this day-planner talk has its source internally or externally. Who made these rules for how we spend our moments? Do we listen to our inner clocks, rhythms and energy, the still small voice within? Or does the busy-ness whip lure and hijack us with the latest podcast, the seductive hum of the to-do list, the press of I-must-answer-the-phone? What if, instead of quick-stepping, we want to do nothing today?
I am not good at doing nothing. I spot the glint of the sun’s slanted rays illuminating our dark cherry cabinets, highlighting their chips and fingerprints. I jump to find the Old English Scratch Cover, grab a soft rag, crouch on my arthritic knees, and start to rub away the cupboard’s signs of weathering and aging. I have brothers like this. I quote one, “I am not good at doing nothing.” We inherited get-up-and-go from Dad.
Dad was not good at doing nothing either. He once had elbow surgery which kept him out of the office for weeks. During that month he designed an addition to our house, hired contractors and masons, and walked around with them as they built, then changed his ideas and drew up new plans. We thrive with this kind of creativity. We love accomplishing. It’s good. Mostly.
But I wonder about society’s imperative for constant doing, and I wonder about non-doing, about being, about taking the pressure off. I wonder if slowing down might remove some of our sense of overwhelm in this pandemic.
In my thirties, I trained for and ran a half marathon, slammed around in a gym, bounced around in aerobic dance, and—resolute–peddled my road bike in one week from Amsterdam to Paris. Then I turned forty with the body‘s payback for such intensity. I started to learn yoga and take Feldnekrais classes with teachers who said, “If it hurts, do less.” When I first heard these words, opposite from the cultural norm I had lived with gusto, I thought, ”Did she just say, ‘Do less?’ What about ‘go for the burn’? Don’t we measure success by doing more?”
When I heard, “If it hurts, back off,” I thought, ”what happened to ‘push through, no pain, no gain’?”
The teachers continued, “if it feels hard, can you invite ease? If it feels hard, can you soften?”
Maybe as we start to join again in the world, as we rise, we could ask ourselves, “how could I do what nourishes my heart and less of what doesn’t matter so much? How could I make this moment easier?”