I get a lot of things done. Work, chores, personal projects. Sometimes exciting things like installing new cabinets in my kitchen. Sometimes helpful things like loading or unloading a friend's moving truck. Often mundane things like laundry and prepping lunches for the week. Getting things done is one way I relate to the world. Apparently it also sometimes looks like a superpower.
A friend recently told me they were astounded by my ability to accomplish so many things. They were coming off an exhausting day at work and sitting down to dinner. I was coming of an exhausting day at work and about to shovel a couple truck-loads of bark chips into the front yard. Before I disappeared to change, my friend told me all they have energy for at the end of their workday is some flavor of vegetating in a semi-horizontal position. They looked at me and said “I'm impressed that you just have so many spoons.”
I had to sit with that for a while. My friend is amazing and thoughtful and doing good work in the world. They work part-time at a school, teaching children about art and artists, inspiring creativity and helping kids connect to themselves and each other (from a distance because Covid). They also run an art business, which is a full-time job even if it’s a part time gig. They do plenty, from my perspective. But according to them, they don’t complete nearly as many projects as I do in the same span of time because they don’t have as many spoons.
So do I just have more capacity than my friend? Was I just born with more spoons? I don’t think so. I think it’s more likely the way I operate happens to be recognized as valuable by modern society. In our capitalist culture, so much emphasis is placed on a person’s productivity it’s no wonder “doing many things” feels like living up to a gold standard. But if we had the option to equally consider other ways of being as successful, everyone could have as many “spoons” as I do. Some people’s way of being in the world would just look different than mine. Just like it does now.
I don’t like the assertion that I simply have more action potential or more functional ability than other humans. That completely diminishes everyone else who can’t or doesn’t want to accomplish the same volume or type of things I do. I don’t have advanced human capacity. Other people don’t have diminished human capacity (or if they do, it’s not for this reason). We just have capacity for different things or our capacity is expressed in different ways.
That pronouncement also bothers me because it fails to acknowledge the wholeness of my humanity. It ignores all the work I have put in to tame my personal daemons and discounts all the things I do to maintain my capacity to deal with the world. In my life I have suffered and I struggle. I have been abused and I have known trauma. My ability to get things done is partly born of those traumatic life experiences. It helped me survive.
It was also a vortex. Even after I left abusive relationships and abandoned other unhealthy interpersonal dynamics, that productivity programming continued to run in my background. It is not a magical ability I was born having control over. I can harness this power consciously today only after years of deliberate practice grounding and centering through Qigong and Taiji.
Taiji teaches that we can know a thing by knowing its opposite. I had to spend time with stillness before I could recognize the ceaseless churning within myself. I had to sit with my yearning for doing and recognize how it served me before I could let it be just a part of me instead of running away with all of me. I had to practice seeing the potential of that vortex before I could choose to avoid it.
I do not enjoy the feeling of idleness. I like working on projects and creating things. I love the feeling of being in the zone. I also do not like to leave things unfinished, so it's hard for me to stop before something feels complete. The momentum of doing makes it easier to keep going once I've started and I’m in the flow. I find it more challenging to put something down midway and try to work back into that same flowzone later. Sometimes this means I garden until after the sun sets or work late into the night to complete a report. But I choose these things because I enjoy that version of the process more than the alternative. And I can make that choice because I have explored both.
The past couple months have been high volume in my world. The tax season is always a time of fullness in my work. This year I also had multiple investigative cases, postponed when the court system shutdown last year due to Covid, suddenly all scheduled for trial in March and April. Add to that mix my determination to reshape my yard into a foodscape for this growing season and suddenly all my weekdays and weekends were full.
I would not have chosen to prepare for multiple trials during tax season, but I didn’t have a choice about that simultaneity. So I made sure to do my Taiji/Qigong every day and managed to get it all done without draining every ounce of my being. There is a certain energy in the momentum of doing that feels good. And I can see it more clearly when I also allow for stillness. Then the doing can be meditative and centering. It can be restorative. I zoned-in on gardening and movement arts to de-stress from my work, and all those different flavors of doing kept me balanced and feeling whole.
It’s not a work pace I can or want to keep up indefinitely, but coming to it from a place of centeredness was a much more enjoyable way to live through a set of circumstances I had no control over. You could say I took the lemons and made lemonade. Or you could say that I have been practicing maintaining my inner self for years so I had the capacity to weather the many storms swirling around me from the outside world.
There is no substitute for grounding. No substitute for resting-in to the present moment. And no substitute for the daily maintenance of my individual mental and emotional capacity. Just like there is no substitute for maintaining our societal and cultural systems. No substitute for considering how and what our systems serve. And no substitute for ensuring we are cultivating systems that have the capacity to support all of us during challenging times and allow us all to thrive.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.