I Should Work, I Shouldn't Work

Thinking I should work was a results of me living that way for decades. And recognizing this thought was easy. It was actually hard at first, because the thought had become such a big part of me, and I couldn’t separate myself from it anymore, but then it was easy, because it was a constantly recurring thought, and I would see it, name it, welcome it, tens of times during the day.

I spent, especially a large chunk of the last few years of my life when trying to recover from a burn out, recognizing and naming this thought. Then I would tell myself that it was okay not to work, I would make a conscious effort to recognize my need to rest, and sometimes almost force myself to rest if I was so unwilling to.

Whenever I caught myself thinking I should work, I was telling myself, I shouldn’t work, or I should rest or I need to rest.

Over time, just like I should work had become a constantly recurring thought, I shouldn’t work became a constantly recurring thought as well. I was always coming from a place of what was good for me, what was the right thing to do. I was coming from a very intellectual place.

I rested in this way for a while, for about six months. In the beginning of this year, I started getting some ideas about what I wanted to do and I started giving myself to work again. With me going back to work, this battle between I should work and I shouldn’t work strengthened. I wasn’t black (working) or white (resting) anymore. My days had started including work and rest; my days were in the gray zone.

I saw this battle clearly for the first time in my meditaiton today.

And I realized I want neither of these thoughts to drive me.

What I want to be driven by is what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.

Any moment I catch myself thinking I should work, or I shouldn’t work, I wanted to ask myself: well, do I want to work?

I know I sometimes have a very clear willingness or desire to work. It’s so clear that it is very easy to follow - sit down and write, or get lost thinking about a work related problem and really enjoy this problem solving. The desire to work can be so strong that it can almost feel like if I don’t run fast enough, the idea will escape me, and all I want in that moment is to catch that idea, really look at it, and make something of it.

I also know sometimes I have a very clear unwillingness to work, a desire to do something else. It can feel like work is the last thing I want to do, or like no cell in my body could take another milisecond of work related thinking.

Both of these strong emotions, full of clarity, I can notice and follow.

The more difficult situation, and the situation I often find myself in is, not knowing what I want to do. Maybe I want to work and rest at the same time. Maybe I don’t want to work and I have an important deadline I want to meet. Or I don’t want to work and I want to keep my promise to someone about something a deliverable. Or I don’t want to work and I want to reach the goals I had set for myself. Or I don’t want to work and I have this instinct that some additional work in this moment would be good for me or a student for whatever reason.

Ultimately, the confusion comes from cross winds; conflicting needs and desires. And in those moments, what I can do, and what I want to do, is to listen to my belly. Deeply listen, with my entire body, until one of the feelings become clearer or stronger. I want to sit down to meditate for ten minutes for example, and explore if a strong wanting will appear after ten minutes of stillness.

It might appear; it might not. Eventually, observing how things settle or how they get more confusing, and staying with this observation moment to moment, I trust I would find a way I want more than the others.

Continue reading this series: Work vs. Play

Go back to the start: Containing Work When Working For Yourself