I recently moved to Marin in California and one of the benefits that has come with this move is that every Wednesday evening I have the opportunity to attend a 2-hour meditation group with Dr Rick Hanson.
Dr Rick Hanson is an American psychologist who has a particular interest in neuroscience and meditation. He is also passionate about evolutionary psychology and compassion, so you might begin to see why, with my interest in mindfulness and compassion focused therapy, I was drawn to attending his group! He has written several excellent books and I am currently enjoying listening to his podcast that he records with his son Forrest so if you are interested in learning more about his work here is a link to his website; https://www.rickhanson.net/.
Last week Rick was discussing the difference between things that stress us and things that tire us and I thought this was really worth sharing. Most people can recognise fairly quickly things that create a stress load in life. Stress often comes with tricky emotions like anxiety and frustration and tends to create a revving up in the body. Things that fatigue us however might not be so obvious, they often don’t come with any negative emotions in fact we may be fortunate enough for example to enjoy our work (as I am) however they still, over the long term might start to fatigue us. Rick explained it is utterly abnormal in evolutionary terms for biological beings to be clocking such long hours, working 10-hour days or bringing up a family without wide social support. We are not designed for this and yet increasingly this is how people are living their lives. In fact, so much so that it is almost shameful for people to not be living in a constant state of busyness. However, this excessive busyness can have hidden costs on our body, our mind and our relationships. In fact, a quote from Socrates that I only came across yesterday but really struck a chord with me is, ‘beware the barrenness of a busy life’.
How to live with more energy
So, Rick went on to discuss how we can have full lives without getting so fatigued:
One simple answer of course is to put careful limits around how busy we actually are. Another point that I would add is to try and become more connected with your body. Your body gives you a lot of messages and it will tell you that it is getting fatigued, you just may not be picking up the messages or perhaps you are ignoring them-either way learning to tune into your body and take heed of what it is telling you can save your body and your mind from getting ground down later on.
Getting things done vs pressuring ourselves
We can also distinguish between getting things done and pressurising ourselves. The latter involves a kind of compulsion, characterised by thoughts such as ‘I must get this done’. ‘I want to do this until it’s finished’. This zeal may not make us stressed but we have to watch out for it wearing us down over time. Often when we are in this state our body tightens and we hold our breath (one little tip… watch for both of these things whilst writing emails-you may be surprised how common both of these are in this situation)! So as best you can be present and purposeful but be on your own side and perhaps dial back the pace. One habit I certainly need to watch out for is loading on the obligations – I fall into this trap usually because I get passionate and excited about things but I then have to deliver on these obligations, sometimes this causes stress but more often than not it causes me to tire. So I need to get wiser on what I commit to and what I let go of!
Finally, Mindfulness body scan practices and yoga can really help get people re-acquainted with their bodies, so this might be worth some exploration to help us connect more with our tiredness and what drives it.
I’m going to end this with an extract from a book entitled The Curly Pajama Letters. A very good friend of mine gave this to me many years ago and it resonated very deeply so I hope it may resonate with you too….
What is worth doing and what is worth having?
I would like to say simply this. It is worth doing nothing and having a rest; in spite of all the difficulty it may cause you must rest Vasco –otherwise you will become restless!
I believe the world is sick with exhaustion and dying of restlessness. While it is true that periods of weariness help the spirit to grow, the prolonged ongoing state of fatigue to which our world seems to be rapidly adopting is ultimately soul destroying as well as earth destroying. The ecology of evil flourishes and love cannot take root in this sad situation. Tiredness is one of our strongest, most noble and instructive feelings. It is an important aspect of our conscience and must be heeded or else we will not survive. When you are tired you must act upon it sensibly – you must rest like the trees and animals do.
Yet tiredness has become a matter of shame! This is a dangerous development. Tiredness has become the most suppressed feeling in the world. Everywhere we see people overcoming their exhaustion and pushing on with intensity—cultivating the great mass mania which all around is making life so hard and ugly—so cruel and meaningless—so utterly graceless—and being congratulated for overcoming it and pushing it deep down inside themselves as if it were a virtue to do this. And of course Vasco, you know what happens when such strong and natural feelings are denied—they turn into the most powerful and bitter poisons with dreadful consequences. We live in a world of these consequences and then wonder why we are so unhappy.
So I gently urge you Vasco, do as we do in Curly Flat—learn to curl up and rest—feel your noble tiredness—learn about it and make a generous place for it in your life and enjoyment will surely follow. I repeat it’s worth doing nothing and having a rest.
Yours Sleepily, Mr. Curly XXX
Letter from Mr. Curly to Vasco Pyjama in “The Curly Pajama Letters” by Michael Leunig
Written by Dr. Olivia Thrift – registered Counselling Psychologist and founder of The Psychology Company.