In the past year, as I have slowed my life way down to make room for my own healing, I have gained new eyes for the fast pace and incredible complexity of our modern society. The number of projects simultaneously up in the air, the quantity of communications that must happen in a given day, the quality of energy each task takes while being bombarded with competing requests – it is mind-numbing.
At a holiday celebration last week, a family member announced he is buying a new car with more safety features like blind-spot warning alarms. He fears he is too easily distracted while driving because of the number of business calls he makes in his car.
While I’m glad he’s aware of the risk he’s creating and is taking steps to reduce the danger, he seems to be going at the problem from the wrong end.
This is a hazard of our age: we recognize the risks inherent in society’s breakneck pace, but the problem itself blinds us to the resources we have to change it.
At this time of year, as many folks are making New Year’s Resolutions, here’s a revolutionary concept: the Anti-Resolution. An Anti-Resolution is a decision to STOP doing something, to extract oneself from a commitment, or to walk away from a project. And if you’re used to twisting yourself into a pretzel to take on some new commitment, making anti-resolutions is incredibly liberating!
I recognize this is an unpopular strategy. As a culture, we have grown attached to accomplishment, even addicted. In Ayurveda and other Vedic teachings, there is a helpful concept called ahankara, which is one’s sense of individual identity or persona – however, it’s a false identity. As humans, we tend to identify with our reflection in the material world, with our occupations or primary relationships or accomplishments, rather than the quieter inner reality of our soul’s truth.
In our current cultural climate, our ahankara is strengthened by the many activities, responsibilities, and external markers of “measuring up” we receive. Accomplishment affirms this sense of identity, so we actually feel threatened by the prospect of doing less, of having fewer external affirmations. We fear our very self will be diminished. This is natural – but wholly inaccurate.
In some cases, we believe that we can’t do less – that our boss, or the market, or our family, or some other representation of task-master, insists that we must do more or perish. It’s part of our habit to believe we have no power to choose.
At the same time, in our deepest knowing, most of us recognize that we ARE doing too much – and that we are paying a dear price for it, in our bodies, our hearts, and the very relationships we value most. This is the truth our soul can feel.
So how do we get out of this catch-22? We believe we MUST do more, yet we also know we MUST stop.
The solution is simple. Just stop.
Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy. It’s NOT easy.
You probably already know what you need to stop. Perhaps it’s trying to please people, or taking on that extra account with the persnickety client, or spending excess time on Facebook, or volunteering to host the book club, or whatever way you try to keep up with the Joneses that is actually sucking the lifeblood out of your life.
Rather than seeking new apps to organize or “manage” our time with interactive, color-coded, To-Do lists and reminder alerts, might we instead take on the task of actually removing items from our To-Do lists?
Rather than waking up earlier to fit in a new 20-minute exercise regimen, could we instead remove 20-minutes worth of responsibility from our daily calendar?
Rather than looking for creative ways to accomplish MORE, could we confront and actually engage the harder choice to actually DO LESS?
THIS is the revolutionary, counter-culture move that is beckoning us from our own future, leaning back from its comfy vantage point out beyond the frightening phenomenon of saying No, beyond the effort it takes to change. It’s looking back holding up postcards of beautiful destinations, encouraging us to stop, so we can catch up to the future we want to create – the future our dissatisfaction and longing are telling us is possible.
Yes, it takes a tremendous amount of gumption to change the habit of accomplishment, to climb clumsily out of the groove in your mind and muscle-memory of constantly doing, of hungering after the next item on the perpetual, never-ending list.
But gathering the gumption to stop IS doable. It’s a new muscle to exercise, but once we get rolling, we just might discover it actually does (eventually) take less effort. It is, after all, doing LESS. It just takes a little time to get used to a new habit, to get our racing pulse to slow down, to take the power away from the ahankara and feel the result of new choices that gently, gradually give us our lives back.
Step #1 is identifying just ONE thing to stop. Look around your life – look around your weekly calendar. Find one activity to edit out, to cut. Create a square of empty space. Or decide on one new behavior to give up, like “Stop watching TV before bed,” or “Stop defaulting to ‘sure’ when the real answer is ‘no’,” or “Stop checking social media on the bus ride to work.” Just one.
Step #2: Stop. It’s that simple. And that difficult.
Finding the chutzpah, the true lion-hearted courage, to stop doing what has become “normal” but is eating your spirit – now, that’s a challenge worth taking on this New Year. That is the New Year’s resolution that is worthy of a revolution.