Buy lightbulbs, clean the toilet, type notes up from the meeting, make sure people know where to park, feed the fish, wash the dishes, wash the sheets, read a few chapters of the book, RSVP, figure out dinner, go for a super long walk, do some writing on that idea, sort those papers, get back to those people, make sure the kids get the shampoo out of their hair this time, talk to the teacher about nature badges, research the inherent tension in activism and self-preservation, look at the moon, make my mother-in-law tea, visit with my neighbor, kiss my family, sing really loud in the car, make giant plans, make shopping lists, get the down comforter ready, draw with ink on good paper, recycle, take the library books back, contemplate leadership pipelines and barriers to success, connect with strangers on behalf of friends, get things ready to burn, prioritize, put things on a calendar, negotiate peace, listen really well, encourage positivity and using nice voices, make sure people feel seen, get seen, see things that blow them away, see things that teach, get people to talk, to imagine it fully, to imagine what the light will be like when they’ve arrived, measure things accurately by goosebumps and chills, admire the way that people learn, notice how brave they are – doing things they might not want to do, clap really loud, yell some, wrap my arms around people, know love, give love, remind people of love, remind people to keep going. Keep going. Remind people to rest. Rest.
Last year at this time I moved to Italy with my family. It was amazing and horrifying. I brought a few freelance clients who agreed to work remotely. About one month into our time away one of my projects got quiet and the other project had a staff change where we decided not to transfer my contract.
So I was suddenly free from work for a few months. More horror.
What would I do? I had been counting on the income. I had been counting on the stuff to keep my mind busy. I had been counting on the continuity with home to ease my transition back after our year away. I had been counting on feeling ‘normal’ so that I wouldn’t notice I was changing everything. Who would I be without my work?
That night I met a wonderful new friend at dinner. She asked me how things were going and how we were settling in. I told her I was worried about not having any work to do.
For a few months. In Rome.
When my family was busy with their school/projects.
She looked at me like I was insane. Then she asked me this question that I have been wondering about for the twelve months since:
“What if your only assignment is pleasure?”
It seemed totally radical and felt just wrong. I was so habituated towards feeling worthy and good and important and helpful. I didn’t think I had worked hard enough to rest yet. I didn’t think I had earned it, it wasn’t MY work that got us to go on this trip. I believe deeply that I have been lucky in my life, so I should immediately and always be working on behalf of others. Who did I think I was to enjoy myself?
Underneath all that I realized: I didn’t think I deserved pleasure.
Now when I say pleasure – I’m not talking about hedonism or greed. I’m talking about ease, joy, time and freedom to listen to your heart. To trust the universe as innately good and trust yourself as an intricate part of that universe. What happens when you have permission to relax into that? What happens when you do things just because they bring you joy? What happens when you notice how simple and beautiful things are around you? What happens when you drop the struggle and the urgency?
What if YOUR only assignment is pleasure?
You think they don’t like you. You think they’ll never hire you/invite you/pay you/respect you/listen to you/love you. You think they are too rich/too poor/too old/too young/too out of touch/too in the know/too trendy. You think it won’t happen. You think you haven’t put in enough work or haven’t got the right training or don’t speak the right language or possess the right charms. You think there isn’t enough money or enough time, its too early and its too late. You think you don’t have the right experience or friends or background or network or personality. You think it won’t happen. You think things can’t be good, surely the other shoe will drop soon? You think its dangerous out there. You think even though you did this or that, you still need to do this or that to be seen or known or successful or accomplished or safe or powerful. You think that if you have come this far everyone is going to try and take it away. You think they haven’t worked as hard as you have, suffered as much as you have. You think the world is broken beyond repair. You think it won’t happen. It can’t.
You think its possible. You think that everything is trying to help you grow. You think that even if they don’t get it, they are trying to understand or doing their best. You know they want you to be healthy and happy. You feel seen. You stand and stretch. You feel heard. You know there is room for you and you begin to share your gifts. You think of time as something to fill rather than something that is running away from you. You think of challenge as opportunity. You think its starting, you think it actually began long before now and you are lucky enough to carry it forward. You think there is plenty and more. You feel it pushing you forward and lifting you up. You expand into it. You listen to your gut and speak from your heart. You gaze at the wonder around you: so much wisdom, so much courage, so much mystery, so much to learn, so many stories. You start connecting the dots and holding everyone around you up. You want to give back. You think the world is imperfectly beautiful and you are so lucky to be right here, right now.
You are in a constant state of change. Your body is regulating breathing automatically, you don’t have to think about it. You sweat, blink, get hungry. You don’t have to think about it. The human body is super smart. It is absorbing and processing and regulating so much. So much more than what is controlled by your thinking mind.
Yet – your thoughts become real. Your imagined fear signals a physical reaction into fight or flight. Your stress response gets coded into your cells. Those habits of thought become real impairments that affect the beautiful machine that is your body.
You need to learn to turn it off. Turn off the thinking or turn it down. Notice who is thinking. Are you thinking or are you observing the thinker? If you are able to observe the thinker, then who – may I ask – are YOU?
Notice time and how it is affected by both thoughts and breath. Slow your breathing. Breathe deeper. Notice that thoughts are just thoughts. Watch them float away.
Sink into the space between this and that. How long can you rest here?
We all like the idea of security. Because, you know, it makes us feel safe. We like to pretend we’ve got it figured out. We rig things with alarm bells, helmets, airbags and insurance policies. It’s the smart and right thing to do.
But what if security is actually kind of dangerous? What if we’ve got it all backwards? What if all these protections and certainties lull us into a stupor – believing life should be easy and cushioned? Do we really think that if we plan and plot enough we can avoid our own annihilation or at least avoid looking like a fool?
This week I read a couple of great parenting articles (that are good for everyone to read) about just that: we think we are keeping kids safe – but we might actually be hindering their growth. The only real way to build resilience is to test yourself, fail and test yourself again. It is the only way to learn self-reliance and a sense of humor towards failure.
I also read this wonderful interview with Tom Robbins where he calls this “Crazy Wisdom”: For want of a precise definition, we might consider that crazy wisdom is a philosophical worldview that recommends swimming against the tide, cheerfully seizing the short end of the stick, embracing insecurity, honoring paradox, courting the unexpected, celebrating the unfamiliar, shunning each and every orthodoxy, volunteering for those tasks nobody else wants or dares to do, and perhaps above all else, breaking taboos in order to destroy their power. It’s the wisdom of those who turn the tables on despair by lampooning it, and who neither seek authority nor submit to it.
Now, I’m not suggesting you give up seat belts or pick up self-destructive habits. But I am suggesting you think about physics, extreme sports and how babies learn to walk. I encourage you to go straight into situations that feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar and illogical.
In our house we like to use the expression “Get Rad” – which is to say:
If you are cautious on a snowboard you will eat it.
If you are cautious on a bicycle you will eat it.
If you are cautious in love you will eat it.
If you are cautious with opportunity you will eat it.
The paradox is: even if you are fearless – you will likely eat it too.
It is impossible to avoid crashing and burning at all times.
So you might as well get started.
Just lighten up and keep going.
The only way forward is to take the next wave is fearlessly. The only way to know your edge is to push right up to it and trust that the universe and your own skill will eventually hold you up. You will look like a fool. You will inevitably meet annihilation. Might as well get started.
Go ahead, Shred.
I love to roll through words and think about what they mean for our hearts, bodies, minds, work: drag, momentum, current, velocity prediction, wave-making, contagion and fluidity. I also love the neat mathematic equations outlined to counteract resistance. To figure it in, so to speak, in terms of speed, conditions and shape.
Is resistance bad? Is it always present? Is it necessary even?
Resistance is a force that opposes.
But isn’t that also counterbalance? And friction? And FORCE? Doesn’t it build power and strength?
How do you work with resistance?
I particularly love the idea of ‘eccentric training’ which is also called ‘negative training’. It is a kind of muscle strength built only by the motion of unclenching. Running downhill, leaning back from a sit up and likely all of yoga. It is actually what makes you ache, because it is both stretching and flexing at the same time. It is intentionally slowing down your slow down. It is opening.
Think about whatever your resistance is today: the boulder you are pushing, the thing you are avoiding, the reasons why you can’t, won’t, didn’t, haven’t, the drag on your boat, the friction in your flow.
Figure it in to your calculations. Make a little time for it. Notice the conditions and shape of it. Then, push into that resistance with all your might. Slowly now, noticing how strong it is making you: let go. Repeat.