Monthly Archives: November 2013

Choices, addictions and vulnerability.

http://www.stuartmcmillen.com/comics_en/rat-park/DSCF9015

I read this comic strip the same evening after attending a side street alley gathering to remember a life lost to a suicide.

Although I only vaguely recollect a chance encounter, the alley was full of people whose lives were touched in one way or another. It was poignant: a poem, both melancholic and hopeful, read by a friend; a minute of silence, punctuated by drops of rain reflecting dimmed lights.

I sat, in respectful silence and retrospective wonder. How often are our lives touched by people who seem to radiate nothing but kindness and selflessness only to find out later about their lost or losing battles with demons of loneliness? How often are we shocked by the falseness of our assumptions that people like that MUST have been surrounded by the same love, wisdom and kindness that they project on their world?

The two events are not linked in any form. I know nothing of the life and struggles of the young man who did not want to struggle anymore. I know little of addictions to substances other than endorphins created by my own body. I do not intend to make any assumptions. But they both made me think.

Choices. Some are simple and obvious to make: to do or not to do. To say or not to say, to believe or not to believe. Others, despite being a lot more important, are significantly harder to recognise. The conscious choice as to which river to swim in. Entering either is easy: the initial effort of moving your mass off the shore is probably the same. Yet as you float away, your most obvious path is dictated by the direction of the current. Of course, there are still numerous ways of heading another way, but that is a topic for another post.

Beliefs. Seeing and believing your world as your playground (park) or as your cage. Beliefs are shaped by own previous experiences, opinions of those we hold in esteem, books and gospels of reference.

And the two are forever intertwined, for whatever path you choose to take will shape your experiences which will in turn shape your beliefs which will then choose which river to enter.

And so my tonight’s musings led me to this message by Brene Brown, a “storyteller researcher”.  Six years of research and hundreds of stories led her to summarise what differentiates those that live wholeheartedly, with a strong sense of love and belonging and those that struggle for it:

  • Courage to be imperfect.
  • Compassion. To be kind to yourself first before being kind to others. Because as it turns out we can’t practice compassion to others if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.
  • Connection. Authentically, as a result of letting go of what you think you should be in order to be who you are.

But most importantly, it all leads to her most important message that has the chance of changing our rivers, and consequently our lives for the better:

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The danger and importance of “doing nothing”

P1040364“What did you get up to yesterday/on the weekend/on holiday?”

“Absolutely nothing. And it was awesome”

How many times have you heard or said that yourself? Is it something that we believe to be true, or convince ourselves of in hindsight?

What is it, to do nothing? Is it good? Is it bad? According to whom or to what benchmarks?

I am one of those people that is continuously told “why don’t you just relax, and do nothing for a while?!” and I always have a response to that.Whether it has something to do with all the things I want to do, or the fact that complying implies a sense of loss on my behalf, but I never, ever want to “do nothing”.

Yet over the last few years, few injuries and recoveries post-race, post busy periods of time, I’ve actually started doing that. Whether or not I admit it to myself is a different question. Still, I have not been able to shake the feeling of guilt and loss for wasting resources, possibilities.. but most importantly, time.

Firstly, what is it, “to do nothing”? Is it to do nothing of value? Is it sitting in stillness? Is it recovery? Is it just, simply, maintaining status quo, by default, compared to “doing something”, like turning up to work/training/social gatherings?

Sometimes, in order to describe something, it’s easier to explain the opposite. Doing “something” implies progress and achievement. It is setting a goal and working to achieve it, thereby deriving satisfaction or otherwise from either the process or attainment of one. We define our lives by having either one big, overarching goal, and/or in the absence of one, with smaller, achievable missions, either to seek immediate or delayed enjoyment.

Thus, doing “nothing” would imply waste. If goal setting and achieving is good, then doing nothing is bad.

For me “doing something” is often spending a weekend on a trail- either on a bike or on foot, sometimes with only a vague tangible objective (i.e. get to point A via points B and C). There are generally a few reasons to do it: firstly, it’s something that makes me happy. Movement is meditation, goal setting, satisfaction, growth and sense of purpose. Secondly, it is “training”, whether for a bigger event, physical or mental fortitude or simply to “be better”. It’s also a recharge, being in nature, surrounded by sights, smells, sounds which reinforce my sense of being alive, just as often during moments when physically, I’m probably closer to exhaustion and collapse as when I am literally bursting with energy and the desire to fly, figuratively or literally.

Based on that, stillness is waste. Stillness is reserved for sleep (even though I’ve been known to sleep whilst upright, walking or riding).  Therefore, outside of (usually) hours of dark, stillness is bad.

I am injured at the moment. It’s a result of pushing a little too hard, too eagerly, at the wrong times, most of this year. It is a legacy of achieving a massive goal, which came at the expense of time, sanity, work, relationships. It is a catalyst for me to start assigning value to something which, previously, was considered wasteful.

I am learning to be still. Shivasana, the “corpse pose”, final relaxation pose in every yoga class is said to be the most difficult. It is also the most important.

At the moment, I am using this stillness to teach myself to let go of the guilt. It’s a work in progress, because every day I have not learnt something or moved closer to achieving something is one I will never get back. Conversely, I am also learning that “nothing” has much deeper meaning and consequences and whilst it is still pretty hard at the moment to articulate, I am starting to comprehend another dimension to it, an important and enriching one. There are plenty of occasions when “doing something” gets you further away from where you want to go.

This is square 1. I’ve been back here many times. I know I will be back here again, but I also know each time I’m back, I’m richer, having dared and tried, sometimes having achieved, sometimes having failed. And each time I’m back here, I’ll do something different. And even if I do “nothing”, it will count for something, right now and for in the future.

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