Mornings have been hard for me lately. I’m not exactly sure why. My life hasn’t really changed much. The same things are difficult. The same things are good. If anything, some of the good things have gotten a bit more good. So why have I been waking up in a state of despondent gloom? And, more to the point, what can I do to make things a little bit lighter?
Mulling over these questions the last few days, it hit me that I’d failed to note perhaps the most salient clue: The fact that, however I feel, I am indeed getting up!
What is it, I wondered, that gets me moving on days I could easily burrow in? Could the answer be to figure that out—and then do more of it?
In that spirit, I asked myself: “Self? What gets you out of bed on those mornings when nothing seems worth the effort?”
The answer came immediately. “I get up for the coffee.”
A year or so back, I received a fancy coffee maker as a gift, and it’s this primo coffee—not just any coffee—that’s been making all the difference. Sometimes I contemplate returning to my previous caffeine habits. The capsules for the new machine are pricey, and I’m trying to conserve. But for now, the expense is worth it. The coffee is something I look forward to, and that means a lot.
And right then, it hit me. I was onto something. This idea of “looking forward to”—what role did it have in my life? It occurred to me that perhaps I’ve grown looking-forward-to deprived.
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Life in Plan B Nation tends to be focused on getting things done, on keeping the nose to the proverbial grindstone, on being responsible, plugging ahead, and keeping emotions in check. It’s easy to feel that we don’t deserve special rewards and treats—not when we’re so far behind where think we ought to be.
The problem with this approach: We. Get. Tired. The fact that success is in short supply doesn’t mean we haven’t been working, often way harder than we did when our careers were thriving.
Which got me to thinking about Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber’s spot-on description of how exacting we tend to be with ourselves—and because it’s so great and because I have the book right here, I might as well share it with you:
You go along in life and you do what you’re supposed to do. And every time you do something you’re supposed to do, you put a dollar in the bank. Okay. Every time you’re kind, patient, or you do the thing you’re supposed to do—whatever it is (you know what those things are for your)—every time you put a dollar in the bank, a dollar in the bank, a dollar in the bank . . . .
Finally, you feel like you’re just kind of worn out. You feel like you need a little pleasure in your life, a little time on the beach or something. And so you think “I’m going to go to the bank, and I’m going to take out some money, and I’m going to do something nice for myself.”
So you go to the bank and you say, “Here I am. I want to take out some of the money I’ve saved so that I can do something nice for myself.”
And the response is, “Oh no. You haven’t earned nearly enough to get anything for yourself. Oh, you have to work much harder—you have to put much, much more money in before you can get anything for yourself.”
And, of course, if this were First National you were dealing with, you would say, “No, this is not the way this is going to work. This is my money. You can’t tell me when and where and how I can spend it.” And yet, with this system of self-hate that’s exactly what’s going on!
She concludes: “THERE’S NO MYSTERY IN THIS FOLKS! . . . [T]he person at the bank DOES NOT LIKE YOU! *It’s important to get that*. . . . THIS PERSON IS NEVER GOING TO GIVE YOU A DIME! YOU WILL WORK YOURSELF TO DEATH, AND YOU’LL NEVER GET A THING FOR IT. IT IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND THAT!”
Here is what I am going to do: First, I am going to incline my mind (as the Buddhists say) towards things on the horizon to which I’m looking forward. The workshop for foster kids that I’m co-facilitating. Watching a TV show I refuse to name with my friend Wendy. Hotdogs and a movie at Popcorn Noir in Easthampton (not to be confused with East Hampton).
Next: I am going to give some thought to other things I might look forward to and how I can make them happen. Tango lessons? A day trip? The specifics are up for grabs. And while I don’t know what I’ll come up with, I look forward to finding out.
Note: The quoted passage is taken from Cheri Huber’s There Is Nothing Wrong with You (Keep It Simple Books, 1993). It also has pictures that will make you smile.
© 2012, amy gutman. All rights reserved.