Recently, I started writing a new book. It is about how much we have a tendency to push ourselves, and how easing up would benefit both ourselves and others. The working title is Going Gently. I often think about it when I am meditating in the mornings, and I quite regularly feel guilty about not putting more time aside to write.
A second theme in my life at the moment is that I feel ever so slightly overwhelmed. There have been a few extra stresses in the background—my father has been ill, we’ve been creating a new resident’s room at the temple, there have been some complicated politics in our Buddhist organization—but nothing too extreme. A voice inside me has been saying, “You need more rest.” And then others come in with: “A good night’s sleep will sort you out” or, “You shouldn’t be feeling so tired” or, “Everyone feels like this most of the time—just get on with it!”
If you’re paying attention, you will have realized that these two things are not entirely compatible. I already have a full life, with a temple to run, psychotherapy clients to see, and the usual ordinary tasks of living. When exactly am I going to write this book? How will I rest if I’m expecting to squeeze even more into my bulging diary?
Until this morning, I hadn’t put two and two together. The different parts of me involved in these different concerns haven’t been speaking to each other. The writing parts of me just wanted me to dedicate more time to “my art”—writing is important to me. There was also a hope that writing about going gently would enable me to follow my own advice and actually go more gently. The “rest more” parts didn’t really care what projects I took on or didn’t take on; they just knew that I was doing too much and that I needed to clear space in my head.
What changed? I leapt onto Facebook this morning, full of enthusiasm about starting a new page called “Going Gently” where I could start putting my writing for the book. First, I did the usual search, to make sure that there wasn’t already a page with the same name. There was a page—by a nice-looking woman called Bonnie Wright. I Googled her—oh, she played Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films! No wonder she looked familiar! She didn’t have thousands of followers but the page was very professionally done, and it was based on a book she had written. She was focusing on how people could go gently as they made contributions to living more lightly on the planet.
At this point, I paused. All my different parts took a breath. Did I really want to start another Facebook page? Another project? Was it really the right time to take on something new? Would the world fall apart if I didn’t write my book this year, or ever?
The Buddha’s disciples were known for their different qualities. He didn’t create an army of identical-acting monks, but instead nurtured the gifts they already had and encouraged them to be themselves. Sariputra was known for his great wisdom. Subhuti was known for his understanding of emptiness. Katyayana was good at spreading the Dharma, and Upali at observing the precepts. Between them, they functioned as a healthy sangha. Between them, they absorbed the great qualities of the Buddha and transmitted them to others.
Bonnie Wright had offered me an opportunity to hold off writing my book. She had a talent for writing about going gently, and she was putting it to use. I have talents for running Buddhist temples and doing psychotherapy, and I am putting them into use. It’s true that my book would be different from her book. I still have parts that might want to find an outlet for their desire to write. Nonetheless, my time is limited and my energy is too. I don’t have to do everything, and I certainly don’t have to do it all right now. Between us, we have this covered!
As I reach the end of this process, I am smiling with fond amusement at myself. Of course, I would think that “writing a book about going gently” would help me to slow down. That’s how my system works. I’ve been in this place before. I’m a slow learner! It is a huge relief to me that I don’t have to write the book right now, or even start a Facebook page. Maybe instead I can enjoy my birthday next week, and go on some longer walks as the days get shorter. Maybe I can schedule in a few naps and watch the new series of RuPaul rather than writing. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll emerge from a few months of rest and find that I’m enjoying stringing some words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters. . . .