Do you ever “should” all over yourself? Think that whatever you’re doing, you should be doing something else?
I do it a lot and it robs me of happiness. Recently I had to deal with some schedule changes that came along with my new job. I wasn’t able to get out to my regular weightlifting class and I wasn’t able to get out and ride my bike as much as I wanted. I lift weights and mountain bike because I like to, but I also do these activities because they’re good for my health – and therein lies the rub. I they were only pleasurable, I wouldn’t worry when I’m not able to do them, but because there’s a component of “healthy living” involved, I feel guilty when I can’t participate.
From here it’s a downward spiral – I feel guilty for skipping weight class, then I resolve to try harder to drag my ass out of bed to get there at an earlier time, but because I’m stressed out I don’t sleep well, and don’t make it to the class, and the cycle perpetuates itself.
Meanwhile, life goes on, and it’s mostly enjoyable, except for the guilt and vague but powerful unease that I’m not doing it right.
Last week, while I was in the throes of feeling badly about missing weightlifting, I realized that at that moment, I was doing something I wanted to do. I think I was sewing (which yeah, I actually kind of dig it). And it hit me … what if instead of measuring my success/failure at life by what I think I should be doing, I measured it by how I actually feel at any given moment? If I’m enjoying myself, then isn’t that a good thing? Does the world end because instead of rocketing out of bed after 6 hours of sleep to go mountain biking or weightlifting I have a slow morning and then sit down at my sewing machine for a few hours? Does MY world end?
“But, but, but,” I can hear someone among my thousands of imaginary blog followers say, “… if you just do what you want all the time, then the world will fall apart! Soon cats and dogs will be living together and it will be anarchy! People would just lie in bed all day and eat nothing but Cheetos and ice cream 24×7.”
To that I say no … that’s not how it works. If you are truly mindful and in the moment, you’re not likely to want to lie in bed all day every day. You’ll want to get up and do the things you like to do. Similarly, at some point you’ll fill up on Cheetos and put them aside and maybe break open an orange or mow down a forest of celery.
I would argue that it’s the opposite of mindfulness that causes people to escape into excess … it’s a desire to get away from the feelings … including the feeling of should and the feeling of guilt and the feeling of non-ownership of one’s own life. If you’re really present for yourself you will realize it’s perfectly fine (and entirely your business) to spend the day reading or sewing instead of running through a mud pit being electrocuted or spending the day huffing your bike up a hill. And it’s OK to eat Cheetos and ice cream if that’s what you’re craving, instead of making do with nuts and dates pressed together pretending to be a cookie.
But, it’s also totally cool to do the mud run or the long bike ride if that’s what you want to do, or to eat the nuts and dates if that’s what you really enjoy. It’s the belief that we should prefer one over the other that gets us into trouble because we wind up letting that “should” voice run the show, instead of listening to that internal voice that says “yes, at this moment, THIS, this is it.”