It's my birthday exactly a month today. I'll be 37 and by that age I should expect myself to understand what working hard means. Hard work. But I'm none the wiser.
There's a notion of swimming through the day, breath held and vision blurred by water over our eyes. Our legs push away the water behind us, arms outstretch to pull the water towards us, to affect motion and immediately realise that there is no back and forth; just a vast expanse of water that we're trying to orient in. We're not really going anywhere. Just moving, trying not to exhale.
We've chosen the elements of this gigantic fish tank, or somehow they've appeared anyway. There's the obligatory brightly coloured castle, the bridge, the fake grass, the sand and pebbles at the bottom. And we come up for air, for food. We don't know who feeds us but it tastes good and we're satisfied once we have our fill.
The bulging to-do lists that knock on our doors - insert anything relevant to you here - seems irrelevant if the basic architecture of care is absent. When I find myself grumbling that there's just too much to do or too little time, I must be tethered to another person's calibration of time. We all must take as long or as little as it takes. Sure, we could show up at the right time, rushed, out of breath, hot, flustered, de-centred...but what then are we able to give of our true selves to any particular situation?
We weren't made for 'work' but worth. We are worth more than the demands that life places on us. The moment it all gets heavy, we can lose our ability to be playful and ourselves. And wake up when we're older, finally come up for air, glad to retire so we can figure out who we once were and get help to find a trail back to ourselves.
I don't like the coaxing and ushering I attempt when I have an essay deadline looming or something pressing. I'm not a fan of force after many years of forcing showed me the suffocation of holding my breath for far too long; I never missed an undergrad lecture, for example. I was never late or sick for work. That brutalising voice of musts. And inevitably I woke up very sick and sad and couldn't quite remember my joy. I'm still in the process of piecing the exhausted self I destroyed back together. While I can still say 'yes' to everything that somebody asks or keep up with the infrastructure of my small life demands, I know that doing so is detrimental.
Time and again, I see evidence that our natural being and selves reside in joy, in ease, in playfulness, in enjoyment of the world in spite of what is happening externally. Our processing is always internal, the dream world through sensory experience, through taste, thoughts, feelings, connection to ideas and others. Perhaps the hardest work in every day is finding that head space, the body space, to create a pool of absolute stillness - to begin with feeling, to be guided with a natural compulsion to succeed rather than a contrived one.
Matching and correlating that internal idyll with the perceived world is no easy thing. And at times, I've felt like I could never match it. But it's made infinitely harder by forgetting or ignoring its importance; when we do, the day becomes this dreadful guessing game of what's right or wrong, what's good or bad, shoulds and shouldn't according to other voices. Looking outside ourselves because we have made clear to the inner voice that we distrust it or think it's less worthy than feeding it with outside ideas.
We're deeply connected with each other and our environment. The authenticity and value of those connections is greatly enhanced by our ability to respect our own experience, attitudes, values and find them all a seat at the table. Only then can true innovation, creativity and easy breathing come.