One of the ways that my trauma pattern shows up is that I feel a constant nagging pressure to “Do something, get things done!” If I am sitting still, there is a voice, perhaps even a chorus of voices, shouting at me, “You are failing! You are letting yourself and everyone else down!”
And part of what makes things tricky is that there is definitely truth in that self-accusation. There are many things that need to be done, with real world consequences when they are not done.
But the pattern of pushing myself to work, work, work, do, do, do – that pattern is not actually effective. I can push, work, and do to some extent but frequently I just stop. Or I push myself to get moving but then I can’t even get started because I am overwhelmed by all of it.
So I have been allowing myself to slow down, to let whole days go by without being particularly productive, to do things that are more or less mind-numbing activities. And in doing this I have been looking for ways to get up and get busy that are not marked by pushing myself or feeling pushed. I’ve given myself permission for this process to take time, days or weeks or even months to find a new way, a new stride, within which I can reasonably expect myself to put in solid effective days 5 or 6 days per week.
This morning I woke up, reflected on my morning dream sequence, took a shower, and spent an hour and a half doing a jigsaw puzzle online. At the end of the puzzle, I was negotiating with myself to get up and do some chores, because “I am feeling pretty ok today and I have wasted enough time.” And in that moment I received the instruction, “Don’t go faster, go slower.”
My first reaction was, “How can I move slower? I am here already not moving at all!” But then I could feel that my attempt to get myself moving had been one more version of pushing myself.
“Go slower” meant “Allow yourself to be sitting still. Allow yourself to be sitting still without judging yourself. Allow yourself to be sitting still without doing a mind-numbing activity to drown out the anxiety and self-judgment. Allow yourself to be still, to sink into your body, to remember you have a body, and to feel in your body just if, when and how you are called to move into action. Do not let your body be yanked into action by your mind. Instead, feel for some sort of peaceful center, where your body and wisdom can guide your actions – and even guide your thoughts.”
This was not an entirely new or novel suggestion. But one result of long-standing trauma patterns is that we have deeply ingrained habits that will just keep showing up even when we have worked long and hard to change them. So for me, this was one more reminder to be aware of the existing set of habits (pushing, self-judgment) and to feel into what it could be like to engage a different set of habits (connection with the body, self-kindness, impulse and intuition).