What are You Avoiding?
by Jill Sockman
I’m a professional list maker. You know, the sort that adds an extra task that I have already completed to an active list just so I can cross it off. For those who have been tuned to this channel for a while, it relates to my “productivity = value” equation/dysfunction. It is great way to keep track of what I need to put my attention on, but it’s also a useful tool for observing where my priorities are, because procrastination is a Real Thing. It’s fascinating to watch what tasks are rewritten from one list to the next, ever dropping to the bottom. They obviously need to be done or they would fall away, but my resistance to doing them is high enough that they just keep waiting while I do the many other things.
It’s the same with what’s happening inside of me – though I don’t keep a list for that. Maybe I should. High on the internal landscape to-do list a couple of years ago was dedicated work on the critical voice within. I’ve also put attention on cultivating gratitude, being okay with not knowing, etc. There are things I know I need to work on and actively tackle as well as things I avoid. The good news is that it’s different from my office closet, which no matter how organized I make it, and how devoted I am post-clean that I will never, ever allow it to become so out of hand again, eventually it’s as big a mess as the last time. The interior work, though also never ending, never finds me right back where I started: the Inner Critic is quiet, but not gone; the gratitude practice waxes and wanes; I’m better about not knowing more of the time. It’s practice, all of it– progress yes, destination, no. It turns out that my relationship with myself can evolve, my relationship with my office closet cannot.
And so it is that recognizing my external task procrastination begets the question of what am I avoiding on the inside. This has made me aware not only of what I am avoiding, but how I am avoiding. We talk about the practice of Yoga and meditation as ultimately being the practice of learning how to stay – to stay in the room, in the moment, in the body, in the breath instead of physically, mentally or emotionally running wildly from what is. It is the practice of staying whole instead of fragmenting ourselves into many disparate parts. Like the interior work, this practice requires intention and discipline over and over for a whole life rather than arriving at some I-am-here-now-all-the-time destination.
I am realizing (again) that I use my external to-dos, my drive for work and productivity as my numbing agent as much as my identity. When faced with internal discomfort – whether just the innate restlessness/low level anxiety of being a human or whatever demon-headed form my humanity might be presenting in one moment – if and when I’m not careful, productivity=value sweeps me out of the moment, out of the discomfort. I’ve found another equation: productivity = distraction. I like to tell myself it’s a healthy vice. But the truth is, overwork – especially in this context – is, in the end, as unhealthy and unhelpful as all of the other “overs” when used as distraction, diversion or emotional anesthesia: over-drinking, over-shopping, over-sexing, over-scrolling. over-exercising, over-eating…
What is the ultimate cost of avoiding discomfort/pain through constant distraction? When we indulge in our favorite method of avoidance, be it filling the Amazon.com cart, having just one more glass of wine, or scrambling for connection or entertainment on the smartphone, we drive a wedge between ourselves and whatever the moment contains. We separate ourselves from the wholeness of being alive and all that that entails.
The next time you find an empty moment or an uncomfortable silence when loneliness, anger, shame, grief, boredom or sadness creep into awareness, notice if you stay or if you run. Can you not dissociate from yourself, from wholeness, from your experience as it is by pouring another glass, scrolling, swiping, clicking your way out of the moment? Pain and struggle are not the enemies. They are integral to our growth and necessary parts of the journey. What if the wisdom, the lesson, the insight, the courage, the healing is on the other side of the discomfort and you cannot actually go around it, you must go through it in order to get to the other side?
So much of my work in this life revolves around holding space for others. I’ve learned that holding space for myself and bearing witness to my own pain and discomfort in its many forms is just as essential on my path. There is tension, struggle, confusion and difficulty in being human. There is also beauty, grace, joy and love. When we learn to stay, we begin to take in all of life, as it is offered in the moment, so our aliveness isn’t just the good, it is the everything. And in that aliveness, we remember that we are already whole.