“There must be more to life than increasing its speed.” – Gandhi
Up until 7 years ago, I lived my life in a state of “what’s next?” No matter what I was “doing,” I was always thinking about what I should do next, or in the future. My life was made up of lists and schedules. If I wasn’t “doing” something, I felt guilty and would search for something to do. Reading books was my only escape from this “mind fuck;” My mind had to be “doing” something and reading was a “doing,” which my kids and partners can attest to. And yet, I would also go into states where I thought of nothing but the past and how I could have done things differently. As was the case for me, you can have both nervous systems on full drive at the same time. So, while I was always “doing,” it felt like a heavy weighted exhaustion existed over me.
When I started this journey I aimed to figure out why I felt the strong need to be “doing” all the time – I explored many important layers. These layers proved to be deep and complex, and thus, this quest took many years. On the first layer, I discovered that my “doing” equated to how much love I received. If I was not “doing,” then I was supposedly not worth anything, and why even exist? I believed that love is conditional, and the condition was “doing” for others. The second layer related to my worthiness as a human. Growing up, I was never shown that “being” was ok; I had to be “doing”. Lastly, on a deeper layer, I found that I did not know how to self-regulate my nervous system. However, I gave myself action steps to address each of these layers, and worked on these steps.
It is the cosmic joke since we are Human Beings not, Human Doings!
From up to three years of age our parents help us learn how to regulate our nervous systems. Babies and young toddlers do not have the capability yet to do this themselves. That is why when a baby cries the caretaker needs to go and hold the baby, figure out what the infant’s needs are, and then address them, which calms the nervous system down from a sympathetic state to a more parasympathetic state. This also works in the reverse state. The adult helps the baby’s parasympathetic state to be aroused into a more sympathetic state. When the babies develops into a toddler, and they fall down and run to their caretaker, for example, the caretaker makes contact with the child, soothes them, and addresses that they are ok. This is another example of how adults help children regulate their nervous systems. The first three years of life is the basis for getting our needs meet and nervous systems regulated. Accordingly, this is how we develop to learn trust and self-regulation as adults.
If any of us had primary caregivers growing up that did not know how to regulate their own nervous systems, they likely did not know how to help their children regulate their systems to be in balance. In some cases, regulation may have been conditional and the child had to do something first for them to receive love and connection. Or, maybe their parents were stuck in a sympathetic drive, always going a hundred miles an hour. Or perhaps they were stuck in a parasympathetic drive, and could not get out of bed.
These scenarios, among others, lead to dysfunctional adult coping skills. We have a society on anxiety medications, alcohol, drugs, sugar, and many other substances, which keeps ourselves thinking that this is helping us self-regulate. These addictions had to come from somewhere!
So what is the difference between “being” and “doing”? It can be confusing. When it is an action step it is a “doing” – to learn how to do something and take action to practice it, it falls into the “doing” realm of ego.
We need to start somewhere and so we start by “doing,” but from an aim, curious exploration, then from a goal or agenda driven place. I gave myself some action steps to my explorations, so noted in the above paragraph. One of the actions steps was committing to 5 minutes, 5 days a week, of “doing” nothing. I could not read nor sleep during these 5 minutes, and I was not allowed to think about anything. I needed to stay present, in the moment, and just BE. This sounds easy, but for my system this was a hard action step to accomplish and I could not always achieve it. Eventually, after about a year, I moved it up to 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week! I am laughing while typing this because it seems crazy and silly that this action step took me so long to work on. But, I was re-training my nervous system and it is still something I work on after 7+ years. I am being the parent for my child and teaching myself how to self-regulate.
Awakening, or as we sometimes call it,” wake the fuck up,” is taking action in your life. It takes commitment and in my case a lot of time. It may not take you as long, but it is key to have no agenda for yourself (meaning no self judgment) and stay truthful, while remaining curious. For myself, it is not just about “doing” these action step for enlightenment, or because I want to impress anyone, which are agenda driving and from the ego. Instead, I wanted some peace and I want that peace to ripple throughout the planet, or at least into my family!
Lastly, I want to share two of my favorite quotes:
“Be the Change you Wish to See in the World” – Gandhi.
“The beauty of life is right where you are. Remember to enjoy the journey.” – Alan Cohen – A Deep Breath of Life.