How to be Gentle With Yourself and Still Get Things Done

photo credit: Konstantin Lazorkin <a href="">DSC01738.JPG</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
photo credit: Konstantin Lazorkin DSC01738.JPG via photopin (license)

Resistance is real in the journey towards making a dream come true. I suffer from it regularly. But as time has gone on and I’ve applied mindful-awareness to my journey, I’ve found it is something to look at closely and not just push through. There are at least two sorts of resistance – one, because we are not actually on the right path, and two, because we are struggling with our inner demons of what success or failure might look like. There are certainly more variations.

The difference between the two types of resistance can be so subtle.  When we love something, we spend time with it studying, observing, and practicing.  For example, it’s not enough for me to journal about writing. I actually need to do it.  It’s the truest thing about my life no matter how many times I’ve tried to walk away from it. What is the truest thing in your life, your heart’s aspiration?

This morning as I was settled into my morning ritual of journaling and drinking a pot of tea, I felt penned in and aggressive beyond what made sense. I set this big goal for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) but felt like something about it was not right. What I’ve come to realize about myself is that I am not a binger. I don’t binge-watch tv or binge read books. I like to savor what I enjoy, take my time with it, get to know the experience and contemplate it. Maybe I was French in a former life and knew how to appreciate a ten-course meal. But back to Nanowrimo. It wasn’t that I’d set the goal to write my novel this month. It was the approach I was taking to get it done. I wanted to pound it out in half the time, so I could be done and then use the rest of the month to focus on other projects. Argh! Too much. Too much. Too much.

As I journaled about it, I knew something had to give. I’ve set a particular date for a particular event to happen and continue to apply intense pressure to myself. Ironically, the more I goal-set and plan all the details of my life, the less I get done, and the more I rebel. For some folks, that kind of planning works really well. I am an intuitive, on-the-spot kind of person, and as much as I’ve tried to play hard by other people’s rules for life, it doesn’t work. In the morning, I plan, and in the evening I wonder why what I planned doesn’t feel right for that moment.

I wonder if there are more people like me – who benefit from a gentler approach and don’t accept the label of laziness. The world has so many kinds of people, but we often forget there is more than one way to success. Different strokes for different folks, you know?

Gentleness is not laziness. I also believe laziness is not gentleness. Laziness is frustrating aggression towards ourselves. I’m not talking about taking the afternoon off and chilling with a book or a movie. I’m not talking about taking a nap (because I do that every day!). And I’m not talking about not having big aspirations. No. When I talk about laziness, I mean purposefully avoiding what you know to be true for you. Forget what other people need for their lives. I’m talking just about you for you.

As an example, when I don’t write, I get knots in my chest and back. It hurts me not to write. It feeds all the areas of my life. You have your thing, whatever it might be. Some things we do are tools to support our life, and some are a way of being in the world. Do you know what makes you tick and breathe and feel alive? You probably do. There are readers and writers, chefs and foodies, musicians and music aficionados, travelers and hermits. We all have a place, a thing to which we aspire, a way in which we live most truly.

photo credit: Crawford Brian <a href="">Compass</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>
photo credit: Crawford Brian Compass via photopin (license)

No matter what field you play in, most people take the attitude that you have to play hard to win. What if there is a different way of being?

Last week I started co-leading a course on contentment and friendliness towards ourselves. It’s called Contentment in Everyday Life, and it’s a program through Shambhala. This is the third time I’ve gone through the material and this time I’m facilitating the program for others because I value it so deeply. And once again, it has me thinking.

What does it mean to be friendly to myself? Does it mean letting myself off the hook? Or is it friendlier to take myself seriously? There are folks who fall into both camps. It’s been rattling around in me for a long time, this question. I tend towards the second camp. So, last spring when I started taking yoga classes, I wanted to learn everything I could which led me to this podcast I listened to for a while. One episode changed everything for me, ultimately gentling my approach and lessening all this aggression I tote around to thump myself with.

The story went like this:

A yoga student went to his teacher for advice. He asked, “I’m doing all the right things, why isn’t it changing my life?”

And the teacher said, “It is better to approach your practice sincerely rather than seriously.”

Mind blown. Life changed. That has stayed with me for months. It has become this recurring mantra.

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Sincerity is Energetic and Gentle

When we sincerely want to do something, we are tender around it, caring and generous. When I say the word “ambition” to you, what comes up? Now, play with the word “aspiration”? How different does that feel? I’ve had a life-long struggle with what I call my “vague ambition.”  It feels hard, rigid, not generous or flexible. It hurts in my chest when it flares up. My breathing becomes shallow. I compare myself to others. And then, when I step out of its grip, I become gentler and step into the flow of aspiration, which is sincere and generous to my whole life. It bends and shifts and self-balances. Like a daffodil on the wind, a well-practiced dancer. You get the idea.

There is immense energy in moving into aspiration, which is not ego-driven in my experience. We do the work more joyfully. It’s still bound to have some challenging days, but the work becomes bigger than us. It’s our true work that allows us to be of benefit to others, instead of just serving our own wants and desires.


So, how do we use gentleness to get things done?

Ambition is head-driven, ego driven. Aspiration is breath and pulse and driven by generosity towards ourselves and others. With that in mind, let me offer you a couple of things to consider.

Gentleness is considerate.

Take a moment to reflect on what you are doing and why. Where is it coming from? Once you’ve worked through that (and it can take time until you are used to checking in with your body and breath which I wrote about here), then you can begin to know what is actually called for in the moment.

Gentleness is a time-saver.

There’s a teaching in the Shambhala tradition that we can place ourselves in the cradle of lovingkindness. Soothing yourself in this way isn’t letting you off the hook or letting you get away with something. It puts stuff into the proper perspective. How much time do we waste being critical or doubting ourselves? Wouldn’t you rather use your time to do something fun and meaningful to you?

Gentleness notices what the moment calls for.

Just this moment. Hold space around your aspiration and drop the worry over a big task list. Sure, it can be helpful to note what we think needs to get done. It might be helpful. But notice how it feels for you. Each of us is different. If you like lists, and a list feels gentler to you, then write it down and set the list somewhere out of your line of vision.

So, forget about the list for now. It’ll be there when you’re ready. Writing it down gets it out of your head, but you don’t have to be a slave to it. It’s a tool to help you. What I do with the list is notice where the energy is, and then I don’t give one thought to the other items. The list holds possibilities for the next time block. But all the while, I’m paying attention to my body’s response. One of those things has energy. Follow that trail! Everything else will happen when it is the right time.

It saves you from spending time on needless stuff. I’m going to say something that might sound contrary, but when you operate this way, there are times it seems like you followed your intuition down a bunny trail or a dead end. It’s okay. No experience, when coming from this source of intuition, is wasted. The thing you started on may not have been the point. Maybe, just maybe, it was about learning something other than how to tally up a spreadsheet or mowing the lawn.

Gentleness lets go of outcomes.

This is the hardest one of all for me. What about you? You can have a timeline, but to have it and not make yourself crazy, you have to let go of the expectation for the end result.

Wisdom is already within you. Tap into it. Pay attention to this moment. Trust that what will be, will be. Que sera, sera. I mean this sincerely. Do what you love to do and drop whatever you think it might lead to. Just be. When that one thing is done, take the next breath and step. You’ll get better and better at trusting the wisdom of the moment as you do it. The moment is its own evidence (if you need proof!)

Know that things change all the time. All. The. Time. So drop, flex, shift, morph. Sincerity is gentleness is fluidity. No judgment. What does it take to do this? My greatest teacher has been my meditation practice. It’s shown me how to drop any sort of mindlessness and distraction by choosing to shift my attention. It’s a muscle that gets stronger and stronger. We choose to let go, and if the thing crops up again, we choose again.

Training the mind towards calm and peace no matter what arises is one of the friendliest, gentlest gifts we can give ourselves.

Meditation can be whole and complete in the course of one breath and one small shift of attention to that breath.

Many people tell me they don’t believe they could ever sit still long enough to meditate. One breath. That’s where it starts. One breath, one return to that breath. You’ve just meditated. Simple. If it grows into a longer session, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

But how does meditation help you get things done? The most important thing I’ve gained from meditation is just what I wrote in the first sentence of this section. I’ve learned how to drop, flex, shift, and morph. It’s kept me limber enough to deal with whatever arises in life – good, bad, or otherwise.

Flat tire? Okay. Change it. No need to stress or complain because those don’t accomplish anything. By accepting that these things happen, we can even laugh sometimes.

Story to write? Okay. Write one word then write the next word. Pretty soon you have a paragraph then a page then a book.

What about that meeting you have to go to but you are tired, or the full moon is leaning hard on you? Go to the meeting, remember your breath practice if you feel overwhelmed, and be more productive because you dropped your own agenda and stayed present to what people said. It’s powerful.

I hope this is helpful. It’s what I’m practicing with every day as I live into my aspiration.

Peace, friends,


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