Article by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead; follow him on twitter.
Not getting enough items on your To-Do list checked off? Do you feel guilty because you’re not doing enough?
I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t always remain calm, zen and un-phased when I don’t get everything done. Sometimes I get distracted; sometimes unforeseen events happen which get in the way of my ambitions.
Sometimes I have a hard time not caring about unimportant things. I want the dishes to be clean and the house spotless, all my errands to be finished and everything neat and tidy. The problem is, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, things don’t usually work like this. In fact, they almost never work like this.
There’s always something to be done, always that “thing” in the back of your head that you forgot about that needs to be taken care of. There’s always something else that needs to be finished, and then you can feel happy. (Or so you think.) But then you remember another task, and the cycle repeats.
Of course, there’s only one problem… Nothing is ever complete. Not for long, at least.
So if that time and place is impossible to reach, we have to stop caring about unimportant things.
The constant desire to want to be done, then be happy, creates the background feeling of anxiety. If you’ve ever found yourself doing the dishes as fast as possible, when you have no reason to be in a hurry (like I have), you know what I mean.
If we’re ever to get at that feeling of peace — being OK with taking things slowly — we need to start enjoying our lives. We need to start being instead of just doing.
Here are a few of my (humble) suggestions on how to create more space in your life:
- Realize that not having everything done is a good thing. “Blasphemy!” you say. I know, I know. This sounds awfully backwards, but it’s true. Having things in your inbox means that your time is in demand. And that’s a good thing.
- You don’t need a two week vacation to create space. When you pull up in your driveway after work, take a minute or two to just relax and breathe. Turn off the radio, and just sit in silence for a moment. Enjoy the space. Two minutes is all you need. Now don’t tell me you don’t have time.
- Look for the gaps. Between your thoughts, there lives little gaps. They may not be huge, but they’re there. Start paying attention to those gaps. Allow them to grow by just letting go of thinking all the time. You might think that you need to think about things in order to work or to live. But the opposite is usually true. Most of the time, thinking is completely unnecessary. Most of the time, you’re just thinking about the same things over and over. That’s called a pattern. Or brooding, whatever label you prefer.
- Listen, feel, engage… be there. The reason we’re usually in such a hurry is due to a mind-created obsession with finishing things. So the way out of that is to be where you are. Listen to the ambient sounds you hear, feel your feet on the ground when you walk, feel your hands running through the water while you wash the dishes.
- Let go of the need to become. Sure, there will always be things you want to change about your life. There will always be goals, dreams, desires and all manner of wonderful experiences to seek out. Great, seek them. Desire them. But don’t sacrifice the present. Don’t sacrifice the place you’re in right now. There’s too much beauty.
With that, I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from one of my favorite lectures by Alan Watts:
“Lightning flashes, sparks shower. In one blink of your eyes, you’ve missed seeing. Why? Because here is the light. The light, the light, the light, every mystic in the world has ‘seen the light.’ That brilliant, blazing energy, brighter than a thousand suns, it is locked up in everything. Now imagine this. Imagine you’re seeing it. Like you see aureoles around Buddhas. Like you see the beatific vision at the end of Dante’s ‘Paradiso.’
Vivid, vivid light, so bright that it is like the clear light of the void in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It’s beyond light, it’s so bright. And you watch it receding from you. And on the edges, like a great star, there becomes a rim of red. And beyond that, a rim of orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. You see this great Mandela appearing this great sun, and beyond the violet, there’s black. Black, like obsidian, not flat black, but transparent black, like lacquer. And again, blazing out of the black, as the Yang comes from the Yin, more light. Going, going, going. And along with this light, there comes sound. There is a sound so tremendous with the white light that you can’t hear it, so piercing that it seems to annihilate the ears.
But then along with the colors, the sound goes down the scale in harmonic intervals, down, down, down, down, until it gets to a deep thundering base which is so vibrant that it turns into something solid, and you begin to get the similar spectrum of textures. Now all this time, you’ve been watching a kind of thing radiating out. ‘But,’ it says, ‘you know, this isn’t all I can do,’ and the rays start dancing like this, and the sound starts waving, too, as it comes out, and the textures start varying themselves, and they say, well, you’ve been looking at this as I’ve been describing it so far in a flat dimension. Let’s add a third dimension; it’s going to come right at you now.
And meanwhile, it says, we’re not going to just do like this, we’re going to do little curlicues. And it says, ‘well, that’s just the beginning!’ Making squares and turns, and then suddenly you see in all the little details that become so intense, that all kinds of little sub figures are contained in what you originally thought were the main figures, and the sound starts going all different, amazing complexities if sound all over the place, and this thing’s going, going, going, and you think you’re going to go out of your mind, when suddenly it turns into… Why, us, sitting around here.”
See, when we’re always in a hurry, always looking to achieve a goal, we miss out on the miracle that’s around us. Right here. Right now.
This article was written by Zen Habits contributor Jonathan Mead of Illuminated Mind. To learn more about how to reclaim your life, grab a subscription to Illuminated MInd.
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