Since my last post about acceptance and balance, I’ve been thinking a lot about why it’s so hard for so many of us to feel at ease with doing less in order to achieve balance. Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone but I can share how I felt when I was forced to start doing less to maintain my health, which may shed some light on why being “unproductive” can make so many of us feel so bad.
I’ve had phases since experiencing chronic pain and illness in which I’ve been unable to so many of the things I love and have never felt more frustrated in my life. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to continue working. I felt worthless and even boring. Although those feelings had such a terrible impact on my self-esteem, I believe I had to experience them. At first I denied them because I judged myself for thinking such negative things but then I embraced the feelings in a non-judgmental way and everything started to shift.
I came to understand that those feelings were a normal response to illness, particularly in the context of contemporary culture. Think about it. What’s the first thing that most people say to one another upon meeting…
“What do you do?”
Imagine your response was: ” not much.”
The other person would likely walk away from you and go look for someone else to have a conversation with. Then I wondered, what if we started off asking each other the question “who are you?”
Imagine the rich, beautiful conversation that would emerge from asking that question. Sadly, in our current culture, who we are is so entwined with what we do, which is why I believe it is so incredibly hard for people who have experienced an illness, live with chronic illness or disability to feel like a valued person. The truth is that so much of how we define others and ourselves revolves around “doing.” Although I believe that what we do can reflect some things about our character, I also believe that far too many people, including myself, feel guilty when they’re idle or just “being.”
What about being OK with just “being “sometimes? I’m not suggesting people should drop all their hobbies, quit their lives and return to the cave, but maybe we need to separate who we are (just a little bit …like 50%) from what we do. So much of the mental anguish I felt when I couldn’t do as much anymore was partly because of a sense of loss of identity. Sure, I missed doing those things but so many of the negative effects that I had from not being able to do them came from a sense of loss of myself and not just the loss of the thing I liked to do. When I truly embraced the concept that what I did didn’t define me, it allowed me to find other passions that worked; made me more open to modifying what I used to do to fit where I was at with my abilities, and eventually I was able to reconnect with some of the things I used to do. I just had to do them differently. I shifted my focus away from getting back to someone I was to just “being” who I was. This changed everything for me.
I truly believe that taking the pressure off of “doing” allowed me to give myself permission to transition from feeling like I’ve lost so much of myself to finding a new of way being that extended beyond what I did and revealed more of what makes me who I am.
Anyway, this is just my experience, and I hope that reading about it helps someone in some way.
As usual, I’ve got some links of inspiration for you to check out if you’re interested:
Learning to Be Present With Yourself
Can you just “be” instead of “doing” all the time?
Free Guided Meditations from the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre: