I read a blog by Tim Ferriss this past week in which he talks about the importance of “deloading.” For him this means having extended periods of being unplugged and taking his foot off the gas. I too am a believer in the rejuvenating benefits of scheduling downtime for doing nothing. In my experience, there is a point when working hard starts to produce diminishing returns unless I recharge. However, this is not meant as a prescriptive technique to use for optimum performance.
It is easy to think that there are specific techniques that if we were simply able to identify and use them, we would be guaranteed a more pleasurable experience of life. From this point of view, we need to work to experience our well being. We need to discipline ourselves to consistently use the appropriate techniques so we can feel okay.
My position, however, is that wellbeing is our natural state. We don’t need to use any technique to feel good because that is our natural state. Doing nothing, then, is not a requirement for feeling good and having optimal performance. Scheduling regular blocks of free time is not something else we need to put on our ever growing self-care to do list. I do enjoy taking time away from the rush of life, but the deliciousness of the experience results from having a quiet mind not from what I am doing or not doing.
How fortunate, because even as someone who sets my own work hours, I am not always able to schedule large periods of time to do nothing. With a full life that includes husband, children, family, friends, exercise, work and more, sometimes alone time is not my highest priority. When I do have time to do whatever I want, it feels luxurious. However, like any other luxury item that I think makes me feel good, my good feelings don’t come from the external spaciousness of time. They come from having a quiet mind.
Certain external circumstances tend to give us permission to allow our minds to slow down and enter a more meditative state. This might occur when we are on vacation, driving, taking a shower, or having a massage. Funnily enough, for some people, when they engage in the practice of formal meditation, that is when they have the hardest time experiencing a meditative state. Nonetheless, we all have some times in our lives when our minds gets quiet. When this happens, we feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
As our personal thinking settles, we experience the energy of thought more than the content of our thoughts, and we naturally drop into a state of peace, loving, and equanimity. This can happen anytime, anywhere, while we are doing anything. My friend and mentor, Linda Pransky, remembers the theosopher, Sydney Banks, telling her, “We are only one thought away from experiencing our enlightenment.” From his perspective, we are all already enlightened. We just don’t know it.
This is liberating. We don’t need to do more to feel better. That is a common misconception of therapy and self-help. We are told, if we would just do one more thing, practice this magic bullet, then we would arrive. The truth is we are already there. There is nowhere to go.
The only transformation needed is a shift in consciousness. Technique does not give us this. Our innate intelligence is always moving in the direction of growth in consciousness. We can’t get in the way of that. We can’t speed it up. We just need to relax and enjoy the ride. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether or not we are able to schedule large swaths of unstructured time in our lives. We don’t need to do this to experience a quiet mind.
When our minds get speeded up, and we feel the stress and tension associated with believing our anxious thoughts, we can remember this is a temporary state of mind that is reflective of a low mood. We can see that our experience changes in a moment simply by relating to our thinking differently, by recognizing how our experience is thought created. As soon as we see this, it becomes much easier to not identify with the negative thoughts. When we don’t identify with the negative thoughts, we don’t bring them to life so vividly. As a result, we experience more tranquility and the peaceful experience of a quiet mind even if we are busy and doing things.
This is not a technique. I am not saying use the technique of not identifying with your irrational, limiting beliefs to feel better. What I am saying is, we can recognize that our feelings are a compass. They let us know what the quality of our thinking is. If you see this, and you are experiencing upset, you will know automatically and unequivocally that your thoughts are not good quality even if they are invisible to you. With this awareness, it is possible to be skeptical of your thinking. It is this understanding that gives you the ability to not identify with your thoughts. It is natural to not believe thinking you know is not true. If I know someone is lying to me, I don’t believe what they are saying.
I can have the thought I am an unworthy person. If I believe this thought, I will have feelings of shame. The feelings of shame let me know my thinking is off track. When I see this, I am skeptical of my beliefs. I recognize my thinking can’t be trusted, and I know I am caught in the delusion of a negative thought storm.
No need to panic. When I understand my psychological functioning and where my experience comes from, I know that my negative thinking will settle. I will stabilize. My mood will lift, and I will once again see myself and the situation more clearly. My perspective will clear so the misunderstanding in my thinking will actually look like a misunderstanding rather than a fact that I am unworthy. Once my thinking clears, I will be able to let go of the idea that I am unworthy, and ask myself, “What was I thinking?”
When we see there is no technique involved, it is simply a shift in perception, this allows us to relax. There is nothing to do no matter what we are feeling. We can experience more peace of mind because we know we are okay no matter what.
There are days when I feel overwhelmed by what I have to do. My plate looks overloaded. I feel internal pressure and stress. It looks like the pressure and stress are coming from outside of me, but the truth is I am feeling my thinking. I am feeling the impact of buying into my limiting beliefs and low mood thoughts. My mind is cluttered and busy with the spin of my negative thoughts. Rather than experiencing the calm of a quiet mind, my thoughts are like the heavy duty wash cycle on my laundry machine, churning away. This is exhausting mentally and emotionally.
Then there are days when I have objectively more to do, with specific deadlines to meet, and I feel calm and unflustered, like I have all the time in the world. During times like these I glide through life, challenges included, like a hot knife through butter. My mind is as still as the glassy waters of a lake, clear and transparent. In these instances, I feel alive, alert, and peaceful. These feelings have nothing to do with what I have on my plate and everything to do with what I have on my mind.
I experienced one of these times recently. My husband was away from home for a week at a training. It was going to be an unusually busy week for me. Not only did I have my client commitments, but I was also going to busy with my faculty work. This would have kept me on my toes under regular circumstances, now I was having to add on to that being a single parent for the week.
Fortunately for me, once I accepted there was no changing the circumstances, I came into cooperation them. When I did this, I felt peaceful. I stopped worrying about how I was going to cope, and what I was going to do. I decided that I would handle whatever I needed to when I needed to. Without the noise of my worry, I had a very graceful week both internally and externally. When my husband got home, I was very pleased to see him, but I was in a relaxed state, not frazzled and at my wits end like I feared.
What is interesting to me about this situation, is that I had the capacity to choose not to worry. I knew I could not afford to waste my energy so I did not give myself the luxury of indulging in my negative thinking. My survival instincts kicked in and helped me to interrupt my negative conditioned thinking in a profound way. I am not, however, able to do this all the time. If I could, I certainly would never worry again, but I know this doesn’t really matter.
I am fine even with my human foibles and weaknesses. Yes, if I get caught up in my negative thinking, I will feel the stress of that, but I will always stabilize. I don’t need to be perfect to be okay. My natural state of wellbeing and peace of mind will always rise to the surface because that is my true nature. I am only ever one thought away from it.
I am not against activities that make it easier for me to ignore my low quality thoughts and let my thinking settle such as scheduled downtime, vacations, and other pleasurable activities, but I am more connected with my resilience and empowerment, when I know the power to experience the peace of my true nature is not in the activity I am engaged with.
The power to experience the beautiful feeling of my loving essence comes from inside of me. When I am not connected with it, I can be compassionate with myself. I can be loving with myself, while I am caught up in the illusion of my distorted thinking. I will eventually wake up from the limiting beliefs, reconnect with the truth of who I am, and remember, as Teilhard de Chardin says, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”