So much of our cultural conditioning is about “pushing” ourselves, and this combined with our society’s insistence on extremes too often leads people to push themselves past their healthy limits and into the crash-zone. We all know those people who seem to say yes to and be able to do everything; what we don’t see is that many of them are tormented by frequent or chronic physical health problems or other sufferings they don’t share with us, because they feel that they are doing the right thing by continuing to strive to make everyone else’s life better without taking enough time for themselves to really discover what will make their own lives better.
A big part of my human revolution lately is finding the balance between striving to be productive enough to accomplish everything I’ve committed to do, and not pushing myself past my healthy limits to the point where I feel so burnt-out that I don’t want to do anything.
Part of this process has been chanting to increase my capacity. For me, this doesn’t mean increasing my capacity to take on more responsibility, more projects, or more activities, but to increase my capacity to better handle and make progress in what I’m already trying to do.
Thus, I’ve done a lot of self-exploration to identify what my capacity really is, rather than assume what it is based on people’s or society’s expectations of me because of the demographic categories I fit into.
One of the ways I’ve been assessing my capacity versus what I’m demanding of it lately is imagining my energy system as a main circuit-breaker panel. I’ve found this analogy to be helpful for identifying which of my circuits I’m trying to draw too much electrical current from (think about what happens if you plug a vacuum-cleaner and a space-heater into outlets on the same circuit), and for recognizing when my input-power is lower than the amount of energy I’m trying to draw from it. This is helping me visualize where I need to draw my boundary lines, as a way of not only honoring myself but of being true in my relationships with other people—especially when in large groups.
A few months ago, I reflected with a good friend about our similar experiences of striving to become more community-oriented when our original inclinations were to be loners. It’s not about being “introverted” or “shy,” he pointed out; whereas naturally-outgoing people find large, lively gatherings to be energizing, more naturally-inward people like us have the opposite experience: It takes us an enormous amount of energy to manage ourselves in such gatherings. This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy ourselves or that we resent people for wanting or expecting us to participate; it does mean that we need a lot more recovery-time before our next interaction that involves more than one person.
Some people’s lives are so outgoing and so fast that the lives of people who are more reserved and who take a more gradual approach to personal growth look like they are not moving at all in comparison—which would be synonymous with stagnation and defeat in Buddhism. This misconception indicates a need to develop a deeper understanding of each other and not be so quick to tell others, for example, that they “should” strive to become more outgoing or do more in their community. Even if it may not appear that they’re doing much, we have no idea how hard some people are really trying, and how much energy it’s really taking them to do whatever they are doing.
This is especially important to bear in mind if a group’s emphasis is on rapid change or rapid growth: Some of us, especially those of us striving to overcome addictive behaviors, and who have exhibited emotional patterns that have been labeled as “depression” or “anxiety disorder,” need to take our human revolution more slowly.
I’ll continue these thoughts in my next post.
Image: “Mystic Main” and “Balanced Current” by Karla Joy Huber, 2017; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, silver Sharpie, metallic gel pen, white gel pen, colored pencil