Do you ever feel exhausted, overwhelmed or resentful as a result of what you do as a parent? Do you find that there are times when it all gets too much and you start loosing your temper and yelling at your children? I used to experience this often. I understand, now, that these were symptoms of over-doing. I was pushing myself to do way too much and believing that I had no choice. It seemed as if parenting was such a bottomless pit of work that feeling overwhelmed was inevitable. Fortunately, I have discovered that over-doing is not inevitable or incurable. The solution is less doing and more Being.
For a while I fooled myself into thinking that the solution to over-doing was simply to try and do less; just slow down, take a rest, relax! However, my efforts to control my over-doing were never very successful. I couldn’t relax and slow down for very long before I was dragged back into over-doing again. Saying to myself that the solution was to do less is very much like saying that the solution to over-eating is to eat less. On a superficial level this is true, but it ignores the reasons underlying the push to over-eat. Going on a diet might work in the short term but unless I change my relationship with food at a deep level the long term result will probably be more over-eating. Over-doing is much the same. I could go on a holiday or take a day or two off but it would not bring a long-term solution. Finding the solution to over-doing required a deep understanding of what was driving my doing. It also required a willingness to cultivate Being.
So what is Being? It is not something that I can easily describe. I can only point to it. Being is not the same as doing nothing, although sometimes this can help me find it. Being is a state of calm, relaxed alertness. When I am Being I am fully present in the moment. I am fully conscious and yet not caught up in my thoughts. I allow everything to simply be as it is rather than trying to control it. My earliest experiences of Being occurred in nature; watching a waterfall, floating gently in a lake or walking through a rainforest. It felt peaceful and intensely joyful at the same time. It has taken a lot of practice, but I can now experience Being in my everyday life as a full-time parent. Being is not a belief. It is not something I needed to learn. It is something that I experience directly and that I know is always there waiting within me to be rediscovered again.
A wonderful antidote to over-doing has been to invite more Being into my life. I use some simple practices to remind me of Being. Going for a beach walk by myself always brings me out of my head and into Being. I take time each day to meditate. I also actively invite Being into my parenting and housework. I like to pause during the day and become conscious of what I can sense directly within myself. This might be while I am sitting and watching my children play or even while they are playing on top of me! It might be while I am doing the washing up or cooking a meal. I focus my attention on the sensations within my body. I focus on the tingling, flowing aliveness within me. If I can hold my attention on my inner aliveness I find that I am naturally drawn into the calmness of Being. It is a doorway to the peace within me.
Focusing on my inner aliveness pulls my attention away from my mind and my stream of thinking. It pulls me away from all those thoughts that are driving my over-doing. When my attention is on Being the power source is removed from my thinking. It is my attention that gives them their power. Without it they start to lose their grip on me and fade away. I am aware of my thoughts but I am no longer controlled by them.
Now that I am more aware of my thoughts I am more able to question them. Are those thoughts really true? I can ask myself; is it really true that I must do all those things today? Do I really have to pick up all that Lego? Must I go to the supermarket right now? Do I need to get my children into the bath every day? I have discovered that when I am able to be honest with myself and find my deepest truth that the answer is always “No”. I don’t have to do these things.
Rather than a life dominated by doing, I have discovered a life where doing and Being alternate. Rather than march to the drum of DO-DO-DO I can dance to the rhythm of DO-BE-DO-BE-DO!
As I practice connecting with Being I find new possibilities opening up in my life. There is more space around my doing. I have more choice about what I do. Overall, I do less and I enjoy what I do much more. There is more room to be spontaneous and to play. Old patterns of over-doing have given way to going with the flow of Life in a more relaxed and creative way.
To help me think more clearly about what I do I have written myself some Guidelines for Being-Inspired Doing. I printed them out and placed them on my kitchen noticeboard where I can refer to them during the day. I turn to them when I start to feel that I am pushing myself to do more than is comfortable. I also turn to them when I notice any resentment around what I am doing or if I am starting to complain. I have found them to be wonderfully helpful.
GUIDELINES FOR BEING-INSPIRED DOING
1. Do things when you feel like doing things, because if you don’t you won’t enjoy what you are doing. Why should you do anything that you don’t enjoy (or at least willingly accept)?
2. Listen to what your body wants to do, otherwise you won’t feel so well. Why should you walk around feeling uncomfortable or sick from what you have been doing?
3. Stop doing things when you have had enough, otherwise you will wear yourself out. Why spend your life being exhausted or depressed from what you have been doing?
Sometimes when I read these guidelines I have a negative reaction. My mind is not soothed. Instead, it snaps back with a quick, angry retort; “Well, somebody has to clean up this mess and no-one else is going to do it!” Another common one is “I can’t bear the house (or the kids) looking this filthy. What if somebody came around and saw it (them) looking like this! What would they think?” Similar reactions have come from friends when I have shared these guidelines with them. They want to argue that it is not possible for them to follow these guidelines. You may find yourself reacting this way too. Here are some reactions that might sound familiar;
- What about the things that you just HAVE to do, whether you like it or not?
- Somebody has to feed this family!!
- I know that I am over-committed, but I just can’t say “No”.
- Nobody is going to help me with this. I have to do it on my own.
- My husband will get angry if I don’t do this.
- I am stuck here with the kids and my husband won’t help.
These are some of the thoughts and beliefs that are driving our over-doing. A reaction to the guidelines helps to bring them to the surface. An important step in dissolving the pattern of over-doing is to notice and pin down these thoughts.
If I write down my reactions it helps to give me some distance from them. Once I witness my thoughts on paper I become more willing to question them. I pick a thought and ask myself: Can I absolutely know that is true? I sit quietly with this question. I wait for my deepest truth to come forth. I usually find that the thought isn’t really true for me. For example, when I examined the thought “Nobody is going to help me with this. I have to do it on my own,” I knew deep down that this was not absolutely true. Perhaps someone else in the family would clean up the mess if I didn’t do it. I could ask for help and see what happens. Maybe it doesn’t need cleaning up at all, at least not right away. Once I opened my mind solutions start to appear that don’t involve me pushing myself towards over-doing.
Cultivating Being in my life as well as noticing and questioning my thoughts has brought changes in what I do, how much I do and the way that I do things. Those quiet moments of Being allow fresh, positive thoughts to enter my life. It is the times when my mind is most quiet that the most creative ideas appear; how to engage with my children around their interests, how to organize things so that I don’t have to do as much shopping and cleaning, how to reduce the garden maintenance. Or I might get new ideas for doing things that I really love. Creative solutions and new ideas appear more often.
As I have spent more time Being I have noticed that my doing has become Being-Infused. There is a different quality to it. If I follow the Guidelines I do more of what I enjoy doing. I don’t do things that disagree with my body and I don’t over-do things so much. I am more relaxed and aware as I go about the day. I have even started to enjoy household jobs that I previously disliked like the washing up and vacuuming. I notice the beauty in simple things around the house like the tree outside the kitchen window or the lovely smooth texture of the spaghetti sauce I am cooking. I also have time to notice the beauty and joyfulness of my children and to enjoy the rhythm of our days together. It is a much more pleasant way to live.