Productivity: An Escape from Death?

Productivity is very interesting.


Some of us are of the belief, intentional or otherwise, that unless someone is being productive then they don’t deserve happiness. Mostly those of us in that category aim this belief at ourselves more than others.

Others couldn’t care less about productivity, and some even think it’s bad.

My own relationship to productivity is rather interesting. Sometimes, I’m addicted to it. Other times, I’m thinking I need to take a break from it but even that break becomes focused on being productively unproductive. When I think of spending an hour without it, my stomach turns into a cat and tries to escape through my mouth.

Why is that? Is it the culture, my parents, my schooling? Is it my inherent uncomfortableness with my own vulnerability,  my impermanence in this world? Do I secretly think that as long as I’m doing something productive, the Death cloak guy won’t notice me on his rounds?

I really don’t know.

The nonsense of the situation hit me yesterday when I was talking to a dear friend. He said that when he gets up late, he pretty much hates everything. It’s a feeling I can relate to. If I wake up late, my boyfriend and dog stay well out of the way because I am going to be grouchy. And why? Well, because I didn’t get anything done.

But while talking to my friend, I realized that even if I do get up earlier rather than later, all I really get done is more coffee drinking and dog belly rubs and maybe some more sleepy Facebook time. Nothing really productive there, and yet, I’m mad when I don’t get the chance.

Productivity is like many emotions and substances. It can be useful and it can also be a weapon we use against ourselves to play the shame game or otherwise divorce ourselves from the tenderness of the present moment.

For me, productivity hardly has any meaning. I feel “productive” when I make songs, when I write, when I make jewelry, walk, do Yoga, meditate, practice guitar, read an informational book or a fiction book with the intention of learning from it, and when I cook. But to cultivate inspiration for some of these activities, I need time to just dilly dally and do whatever feels natural. And when I feel like I “should be” working on music, then taking a walk won’t feel productive. But when I feel like I “should be” getting “more exercise,” a walk feels more productive than making music. There’s just no way to win unless I label the feeling and let it exist without taking over my entire moment of experience.

So here is my intention to be more aware of when I use my productivity or lack thereof as an excuse to make myself feel “less than” in the present moment.

Do you have an interesting relationship to productivity?

What does the word mean to you?

and, more importantly, have you missed me? 🙂 I apologize for lack of posts lately.

Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

Re-Claiming Your Stolen Sense of Intuition

I was eavesdropping on a conversation many years ago at Puffers Pond in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a conversation between a young child and her mother. The mother was clearly in a bad mood, talking in curt little sentences, shoulders hunched, plowing her body through the sand and dragging the kid alongside her. The child asked,

“Are you angry, mommy?”

“No. I’m fine.” was her abrupt, angrily spoken answer.

“Oh. Okay!” The child cheerfully replied.

I watched them, and had a moment of revelation. That child had a great intuition. The child was correct in picking up on her mother’s obvious body language. At the same time, she was too young to say, “Are you sure you aren’t angry, mommy? See, you are walking much faster than me, your shoulders are showing obvious signs of tension and your voice is coming out in a rather abrasive manner…”

My concern was that from then on, the child was going to have similar intuitions, and think back to this day, even subconsciously. She was going to remember that if her mother had similar body language, she was probably not actually angry. This is a huge problem.

The child had a blind trust in the mother, as many of us do as children, especially if our parents are generally kind to us most of the time. We sort of have to. They feed us, protect us, and we know that we need them.

And yet, they are usually a bit crazy. They have to go to work, sometimes to a job they do not enjoy. They have to make money, they have to feed us, they have to give up some dreams in order to tend to ours. They have to conform to a society that is inherently working against their nature, working against their ability to touch in honestly with their emotions. And they pass that perverted blessing down to us without even realizing it.

They have to. We have to. We grow up and get some of our intuition back, but it takes work. And then, after those blissful years of thinking that we can change the world if we try hard enough, we realize that actually what we need is a job and an iPod and someone to marry us. Then we have kids and lack the patience to truly deal with our emotions, so we teach them to do the same. This is how I see the situation in an egg shell, even though there are many more bits and pieces.

The problem is that touching in with our emotions takes time. Not time tomorrow, not time next week or on our next vacation; time. Time. Right. Now.  It requires us to stop with the work, stop with the incessant thinking, and sit down. It requires us to be vulnerable, to express that vulnerability, to truly feel ourselves being in pain or being scared or being happy, even. It requires some spaciousness in the present moment, and this is precisely what many of us lack.

We all have our ways of touching in with our emotions and allowing ourselves to be. For some of us, there is meditation. For others, there are long jogs where we let our brains shut off. Everyone figures out some way to do this, but rarely do we have in-depth discussions about it. Especially with our kids. It is hard to teach these things, and we definitely do not learn about them in school.

And this is why the mainstream nuclear family’s ability to deal with emotions is steadily going down the drain. Everyone has their own room, everyone has their own music device and personal television, everyone can isolate and pretend that they are the only ones who have crazy emotions. The world around them is basically telling them that no one else struggles with these things, everyone else is fine, and their parents “love” them.

My earlier post about magic words dealt with this issue. Here, I want to go more into the idea of “I love you.” These words require almost nothing to say. Saying them out loud burns a half a calorie at most, depending on your personal metabolism.

Your parents may have said this to you a lot when you were little.  Maybe they still do. But what do they mean? Sometimes they look at you with pity and ask if you really need that second serving of dessert, but they love you. Sometimes they yell and tell you that you’ll never be a good driver if you use your brights on a side street, but they love you. Sometimes they look at your new partner with condescending eyes and barely listen to a word they say, but they love you. Is this love?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Or, maybe it is. Maybe it’s love, but not respect. Either way, it can cause a lot of confusion down the road. Whenever someone, especially a parent who you still have some respect for, says “I love you, but…” you are getting a very mixed signal. You are hearing that they love you, you are trying to figure out what this  means (or at least, at 28 years old, I still am) but you are seeing that there is clearly not a sense of respect at some moments. Sometimes there are even a lot of conditions on this so-called love. And then, there is the almighty “If you really loved me, you would…” and this is utter nonsense.

If someone is claiming to have unconditional love for you, and then treats you horribly, maybe they do love you in their own twisted version of the word. But they are not showing you respect, and you have to stop the wheels of your mind for a moment in order to touch in with how you feel.

No matter what someone means when they say they love you, you have to listen to your own feelings. How are they treating you? Try not to think about it in terms of concrete examples of what is love or not-love, but just think of how you feel. You can tell when someone is genuinely spending time with you, and you can also tell when someone is in their own head while with you and is hardly present at all. You should pay attention to the same things within yourself.

The problem is that our culture teaches us numbness at every possible moment. You are supposed to get a job, make money, come home and turn on the TV. You are supposed to work yourself to death to pay for things you never really  needed. You are definitely not supposed to sit in silence, taking breaths and feeling the air come into your body and fuel your very existence. This would be a waste of time, I mean, you could be working.

And this is what our parents have been taught. This is how they grew up, and this is how we are growing up. I love you is a set of words that is supposed to mean something, but often times, even coming from those that we have known the very longest, they mean nothing. They symbolize an intention, a play of power, an excuse. They are often times backed up by nothing, and yet we can hear them and turn into ourselves, trying to figure out why we feel insane.

The reason we feel insane is that we have been the little girl. We have all had intuitions that have been true, and yet the people we were intuiting about have told us we were wrong. We believed them. We repeat the process, hiding our fears and moods from those around us, telling people we love them when we have no clue what that means. We say it while thinking of other things, we say it without truly feeling anything. Even though we know the feelings are in there somewhere, we don’t have the time to stop our minds and touch in with them.

This is the problem. And the only solution is to stop. To listen. To trust your feelings, and let go of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole. To realize that sometimes, people say they love us, and what they mean is something different. Sometimes, a parent or partner is truly disrespectful, regardless of how many calories they burn on words. The words I love you coming from their mouth does not need to make you second-guess your intuition. The words do not need to make you feel as if you are crazy, or not seeing something that you should be seeing.

All I’m saying is that I’ve been there, feeling crazy, trying to make myself believe something. God knows how many calories that burns, but regardless, my wish would be for myself and those around me to remember that our intuitions are valuable. Our time is valuable. Our lives are valuable. When someone calls us out on something, it may be hard to admit that they are right, but the more that we can foster this intuition in ourselves and others, the more this culture of isolation will be put in its place.