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Present in the Trembling

by Aerin Dunford on July 24, 2013

These last months have been strange—at least if I look through the conventional lens of busyness. Until recently, I measured success according to how productive I was, how much I could accomplish.  But now I’m beginning to realize I’ve been addicted to busyness.

In April, I spent a week at the beach doing nothing (much like Deborah’s trip to Mozambique), and it was there that I noticed my attachment to being busy. Oddly, as soon as I recognized that, I became busier than ever. I acted obsessive and stressed until June, when I received news that a project I had been working on for months did not make it into the final round of an international competition. Although this wasn’t really a surprise, it hit me hard. And it made me stop my frenetic behavior, take a moment to look around and reassess my life. And suddenly nothing made much sense. I realized that I was in “the trembling,” between walking out and the walking on.

These past six weeks have been uncomfortable and new—a time of transition, of consciously NOT planning. I’ve had a recurring feeling that something is bubbling up, but I haven’t had the least idea how or when.

There are two mental patterns I’ve noticed that keep me being busy. I call them the “Task Machine” and the “Constant Planner.” The Task Machine is a function of my mind (operating mostly on auto pilot) that takes in any activity—it doesn’t matter if it is related to recreation, work, family, art, reflective practices or whatever—processes it through grimy mechanical gears and spits out an endless “TO DO list.” Let me offer an example: Sunday is the day of rest, right? Not for the Task Machine! The Task Machine can take in any number of enjoyable activities that one might want to engage in on a Sunday (like gardening, creating art, or practicing yoga) and transform them into obligations. What a terrible shame!

The other mental pattern I’m ready to be walk out of is the Constant Planner. I recently noticed that I always plan ahead—not in the sense of planning my future or defining life goals (in fact I’m quite terrible at that kind of planning). I am talking about planning how I am going to spend my every waking moment over the course of the coming days. If there’s a big event or trip on the horizon, the Constant Planner becomes ten times more intense. The effect has been to create overly ambitious expectations about what’s possible in a short period of time—and then disappointing myself when I don’t accomplish it all.

For years, this has been a subconscious pattern—I didn’t even realize I was doing it! Now I see that the Constant Planner is a technique I use to keep the trembling at bay. It gives me the illusion of control.

This month, I am practicing walking out of these mental patterns and habits so that I can learn to stay present in this time of change. I think this may be the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to walk out of. It’s harder than walking out of a job, an institution or a relationship. Our ways of thinking have a powerful hold over our perspective and behavior. Despite our clearest intentions to leave behind destructive patterns, they sneak up on us and pull us back in. So we have to keep walking out again and again and again.

What I’m finding in leaving the landscape of the known and familiar is that we often think that the trembling is some kind of necessary evil—something we have to endure. I’m learning that although it is uncomfortable, it’s essential to stay present in the trembling… to not rush through it and to let it run it´s natural, though sometimes awkward, course.