I’ve been pondering what to write over the last few days. This feeling of not knowing what to do is one I’m used to. It seems to get more powerful the older and further into recovery I get which is strange. In fact I haven’t been pondering at all, the real word is procrastination. However, it has taken some time to understand what it truly is; Fear. We possibly over-complicate fear so a simple and useful definition is:
An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation
of some imagined event or experience.
For as long as I can remember this feeling has reared up when an opportunity comes up or I have stopped doing something for a while (social stuff, running, writing, working) etc. Even with personal projects, if I manage to start them, I can work up a great head of steam and then half way through lose motivation. I could list hundreds of examples from training, to running, to business plans and trips abroad.
Now I realise that sheer laziness may also play a part, however the thing with laziness is eventually I get around to doing it and the feeling is different. When I haven’t been to a Yoga studio for a while I am actually anxious about going back. I don’t think I’m alone in this hell of procrastination. It certainly hasn’t improved as I’ve grown older. I wanted to say matured but that sounded, well, a bit cheesy.
So what is this inertia and this half finishing things or losing focus about? Yes, I’ve read hundreds of self-help essays and books, a fair few inspirational tomes and more than my fair share of ‘Top 10’ motivational tips or ‘easy steps to achieve your goals’ type manuals. They have all been helpful in their own way, however none of them helped me with the root of the condition and quite frankly they were all (of course) simply further distractions from getting on with the real job in hand…doh!
‘Small steps’. Next. ‘Simple goals’. Next. ‘One goal at a time’. Next. ‘Get inspired’. Next. Almost there..by jove I think I’ve got it! Oh no, here we go, here comes that feeling again…I know maybe I’ll read that article on self-improvement instead or look on e-bay for sneakers.
Anyway most offer really useful practical advice and perhaps that’s all you need, unless like me you have a pathological desire to look under every stone and deconstruct every crime scene…
I haven’t been for a run for a few weeks (I’ve been ill) but it’s exactly the same feeling. I know it’s good for me, I know it’s as easy as putting on the sneakers (trainers is a dull word don’t you think?) and opening the door, but…BUT. Something gets in the way. The procrastination – and I think I know it’s fear now.
So what am I afraid of exactly?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s about death, or more precisely ego-death. Defined neatly as ‘Fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness”. Yep you read it correctly.
I’m laughing as I write that because it sounds so ridiculously grandiose and dramatic (unlike me of course). However the more I think about it the more I see there is real truth in it. Bear with me.
I had this kind of minor revelation last year when considering whether to commit to practicing Nichiren Buddhism. There was no money involved, no heavy responsibility as such, no serious infringement of my time or liberty, just a decision to be made that would impact on precisely no-one but me. And what was this terrible decision exactly? An undertaking to being happy in my life, and to revealing my full potential as a human being.
I didn’t want to do it.
I didn’t. That’s when it hit me I wasn’t afraid of the result just the idea of commitment. Luckily I was in a good place to discuss this very private feeling and guess what, I wasn’t alone.
I described how I felt to the bodhisattvas present like this: There are twenty doors in front of me and I know I need to go through one of them (like put on the sneaks and hit the road) but I don’t because from where I am sitting I can still see ALL the doors and that means I’m free. If I go through the door I’m not sure what’s behind it, it may just be a big drop into some endless ocean. PLUS, I never get to see what’s behind the other doors. You get the picture.
Now I said this in front of a bunch of (mostly) females who practice Nichiren Buddhism. No psychiatrists, no specialists but when I revealed this dark secret one of the group said she had always had a crippling fear of dying ever since she was a child, (Terror Management Theory?) She would get hysterical at the sight or mention of anything remotely associated with it. So she therefore embarked on a course of self-help therapy in later life which included a stint in a funeral parlour to overcome her terror (I’m not making this up). She also said she had read more than a few books (most of which were crap) but that in one book there was a chapter about the fear of death relating to a fear of commitment. This was interesting.
In my mind I thought that it was the fear of annihilation initially, in the sense that committing to a door would mean moving forwards inexorably to the ultimate conclusion of life. This makes sense, however the conclusion is the same whether I’m moving through a door or not. Then it occurred to me that the real difference is surprise.
It’s the not knowing. In all of these situations my greatest fear was really of experiencing some unpleasant feelings. This was beginning to make sense from a psychological perspective and from a spiritual one…