Suspicious of Stillness

For the last week or so, I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do that I just don’t have the time for. It feels like this list of “one day”s grows longer every moment, yet nothing ever seems to get checked off. I see it trailing behind me whenever I look over my should like an ominous tail. A tail I feel compelled to measure over and over again to make sure it’s all there and I haven’t lost track of any of it. The most interesting part is, intellectually I know I’m only looking outside of myself in an effort to “fix” something inside of me.

Past experience has taught me that even if I were able to finish all of these things crowding my mind, new ones would easily press in on me to take their place. Not only that, the satisfaction and peace I imagine will be the result of completing my checklist, is never what I expect. In the past it has only been a mere shimmer, a glimmer of contentment, quickly covered again by new concerns and goals to achieve.

You’d think I’d be able to learn from the past, to acknowledge these lived truths. No matter how urgent and overwhelming each item feels, that is just an illusion. Not only that, but that rushed, pressured feeling I seek to alleviate by wiping away all these tasks will not be affected. That feeling is inside of me. Nothing I alter or change in the world outside is going to adequately address that inner turmoil. It may provide a momentary distraction, but it will surely bubble back up to the surface of my awareness.

I was reminded again of that fact yesterday evening. As I was washing the dishes and preparing soup for my lunches this week, a pleasant sense of calm and contentment settled over me. I was enjoying myself. My mind was focused and still. “Everything is exactly as it should be.” Never had that mantra felt more true. I found myself in that delicious flow state, but that nagging little anxiety mosquito would not allow me to rest there. It buzzed by my ears, trying to pick apart that peace.

I caught myself searching for that sense of urgency and overwhelm that I was so familiar with. As if it must still be there somewhere, as if I had misplaced it. I smiled in spite of myself. Why did I feel the need to find my discomfort? Sadly, it almost feels unsafe to be without it. I have learned to trust my feelings of dis-ease more than feelings of peace and stillness. At what point had I decided that the former was more true, a more accurate representation of reality, than the latter? Why did I not feel inclined to do the reverse and seek out that calm state when I noticed myself spiraling?

This was a reminder that even if I were to accomplish every single thing I hope to accomplish and I reach that place of ease I’m longing for, I won’t trust it. I will continue searching for more problems that need solving, and because of that, I will inevitably find them. So when I find myself fretting about all of these random things left undone, I must remind myself that it’s not about whatever I’m fixating on. It’s about the feelings themselves. It’s not a signal that I must act to change the external world. It is a signal that I need to work on trust and surrender.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a dysfunctional relationship with trust. I seem to trust others almost to a fault, never even suspecting that they may be untruthful. However, I can’t ever seem to trust myself or the universe to take care of me. Despite the fact that it always has, that I always have. I’m beginning to wonder if these feelings have something to do with my OCD tendencies.

When someone with OCD performs their compulsions, it is in an effort to dissipate feelings of anxiety. I’ve heard people suffering with OCD say that even though they know it’s not true, they feel they must touch the doorknob five times or walk in a particular pattern across the room to prevent some kind of natural disaster or to protect their loved ones from harm. They understand that this is ridiculous, yet they cannot help but be compelled to continue doing it. I feel similarly about my own situation.

It may be a more vague, shapeless sense of dread, but it is still there. I always have this foggy sense that if I don’t stay ever vigilant, if I don’t make sure I keep my life perfectly organized, and accomplish these random things that my reality will descend into utter chaos. I’m not sure exactly how I imagine this will happen, but the fear is always there. I guess I’ve convinced myself of an irrational slippery slope argument. If I start to let things slip through the cracks, for example not keeping up with cleaning my home, then it will continue to get worse and worse until it is unbearable and impossible to set right again. Then expanding upon that unlikely scenario, I tell myself that everything else in my life will start to break apart too. Ultimately resulting in: I will never be happy unless I can take care of all of these tasks I’ve thought of that need done. Even though, like the OCD sufferers, I know it to be untrue, I can’t help but believe it.

Just as with OCD, the only way to alleviate these irrational fears, is to show yourself that the outcomes you fear will not occur. Only through repeated, conscious effort to resist the compulsion can we teach ourselves that we don’t need to be afraid, that everything will still be okay if we let go. The irony of trust is that you’ve got to practice it to strengthen it. Even though those initial efforts to trust seem impossibly scary and reckless. We’ve got to trust that it is safe to trust. Even though that little voice inside is saying: What if it’s not? That is when we’ve also got to trust ourselves to be okay in the event things do go awry. I know that all I can do is try my best to focus on what I am able to accomplish, and practice trusting that the rest will still be there when and if I find the time for it.

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