personal alchemy

Steady Through

You're at your desk trying to finish the report that is due by the end of the day, but the phone keeps ringing, there are emails and texts popping up like mad, you're distracted because you're worried about that scratchy throat that's just beginning, you're dreaming of your big escape this weekend for some quiet time, and, oh wait, there's the phone again.

Your kids have been screaming at each other nonstop for three days, all of your laundry needs to be re-washed because the cat peed in the hamper, you've got your period, the argument you had with your partner still hasn't worn off and the feelings are right below the surface, you can't find your wallet, and you forgot it was your mom's birthday. Again.

All of the bills are due four days before payday, the doctor's office has now sent three notices that you need to pay for the test you thought was covered by insurance, you're pretty sure you have a cavity and need new glasses, your phone warranty expired just before you dropped it last week, and the airline fares to go visit your family for the holidays just keep going up before you get a chance to buy your ticket.

For many different reasons, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Work, family, finances, email, and even social activities can pile up, causing irritability, anxiety, jitters, imbalance, and worry.  These difficult emotional states have a tendency to not stay put within the echo chamber of the mind. They want to go out into the world. They overspill their borders and start to seep out, touching and tainting everything in reach. These emotions lead to snapping, withdrawing, avoiding, blaming, and getting cranky about even things that usually give us joy, like someone's silly joke.

It's easy to think that our external circumstances determine our emotional states, and to some degree they do. Our external circumstances, if nothing else, provide our minds with things to latch on to, complain about, resist, and avoid. But the choice to do any of those things is still a choice. The emotion arises automatically, but we do not have to follow it when it starts to run away with us.

Instead, we can stay steady through. We can acknowledge that, yes, things are difficult right now; yes, I am feeling annoyed; yes, I am overwhelmed; yes, I am afraid about the future. But then we can choose to persevere, to continue doing what must be done step by step, and in doing this, we dissipate the negative emotional response instead of clinging to it.

However, when the emotion arises and we choose to follow it, we will be led through an exhausting obstacle course, wherein everything and everyone becomes just another problem on the pile, whether that's true or not. When we reach this state, even helpful and generous offers from others feel like a burden, and this can cause us to deny ourselves one of the greatest things one human being can give another: help.

Down through the center of your being, starting at the crown of your head and reaching down through and past your tailbone, is a shaft of light. When stress, daily drama, and expectations start to beckon you to go cycling through a new wash of negative emotions, just retreat into that shaft of light for a moment. When you are bathed in that light, the light of "Now," see if you can find it in you to choose your responses to your emotions rather than feeling overcome by them. Everyone experiences overwhelm sometimes. There's no reason to judge ourselves for it. But there's no reason to latch onto it, either.

There Is Only One Work

What do you define the word "work" to mean?

Is your job your "work"? How about your household duties? Are your children "work"? Are your hobbies and activities "work"? How about your friends- are they "work"?

If we think of the word "work" as meaning labor for which we receive compensation, then the word has a very narrow scope indeed. Alternately, we might view work as anything that requires effort. "If I'm not sitting on my couch in my pajamas eating bonbons, then it's work," is something I have said from time to time, not entirely in jest. But that, too, is limiting because if that is true, then everything is always work, all the time, and our brains start to feel cramped and panicked. 

Parenting is undoubtedly some of the most demanding, confusing work anyone can possibly do--there is no set job description, everything is at stake, and the pressure of constant physical and emotional labor can be exhausting. Yet many people proudly proclaim with every bit of their hearts that becoming a parent is the best thing they have ever done. So then, is that technically "work" or is it something else? Is "work" the word for it?

When you volunteer somewhere, does it feel the same as when you go to your job, or does it feel lighter, freer somehow, because money does not enter the equation? When you sit down with friends to play a game or do an art project, you are clearly exerting effort...but is it "work?" When you clean your house, your payment is a clean and enjoyable space, so was it "work" that yielded that result, or something else?

The word "work" is a vast-and-yet-reductive way to describe "doing stuff" in a wide variety of categories. When we use the word in different contexts, it means different things. Your personal filter also has a lot to do with what you think is "work" and what you think is play, or something else.

The reality is, there is only one Work. It is the Work you came here to do. It is the Work of your heart, your spirit, and your relationship with the divine. It is unique and it is essentially, permanently yours. You express your Work in everything you do, from your job to your parenting to the time you spend with friends to your hobbies. It is all one Work: the work of being YOU. You get paid for some of it, but not all. You enjoy some of it, but not all. You share the labor of some of it with others, but not all. Some of it feels like duty and some of it feels like pleasure, but all of it is Your Work.

If you need respite from labor, take it. Put it on the calendar and defend it from your own or others' expectations. If you need child care, pay someone reliable or find a friend in the same circumstances and trade so you can have a day to do your own thing. If you need a break from socializing, thinking and pondering, do something mindless for a while or turn off your phone or close your door and let the world wait.

But do not allow yourself to succumb to feelings of exhaustion due to Your Work, because living your life is the entirety of Your Work until you die. If you are not dead, you are thus still suited to doing The Work of being yourself, along with all of your choices, karmas, and unforeseen realities, and there is no use in letting that weigh you down. 

Do what you need to do to care for yourself so that you can do Your Work with a whole heart, whether it pays you in money, pleasure, frustration or pain. In fact, if you are truly doing Your Work in earnest, it will eventually pay you in all of these things, and just like the work you do for money and the work you do for free, all of these things have inestimable value.