Have you noticed that when you look at your “To Do” list you sometimes feel suddenly de-energized, maybe even resentful? Even if some of the things on the list are things you normally really enjoy doing, do they suddenly seem like an imposition?
Well, as a friend of mine used to say, that’s because you’ve been “shoulding” on yourself!
It’s fascinating: the moment we make something that we want to do something we “should” do, our small self (often called our “ego”) begins to complain about “having to” do it. It doesn’t matter how much we wanted to do it before; all that matters now is that it’s on that list and so has become a “should.” The body now responds to it as a stressor rather than a pleasure: our belly tightens, there’s tension in our arms and shoulders, and for some, a small rush of adrenaline “fight or flight” whenever we think about doing it.
This physical response, without an actual opportunity for “fight or flight,” builds up toxins in the system that cause other symptoms in the body, ranging from arthritis to diabetes, and can, for some of us, lead to adrenaline depletion.
Now, the word should is by no means the only such word that works that way—it’s just the one currently in style. Other equally devastating words are: ought (as in, “I ought to be…”), must (as in, “you must do this or…”), have-to (as in, “but I have to!”), and got-to (as in, “I gotta get this done before….”). Each and every one of these is as toxic to the human body as cigarette smoke or nuclear radiation. They all build up toxins in the system that can only be released by an immediate response of running away or fighting—which may explain why kick-boxing is so popular these days!
Okay, you’re wondering, “but how am I going to get anything done if I don’t make up a list—and how am I going to get anyone else to do what they’re supposed to (oh, yes! That’s one of the toxic ones too!) without using these words?”
It’s not all that hard, really, it’s about discovering what we really would like to do right now.
“What?” most people wonder at this point,” how would I possibly get the dishes done, the toilet bowl washed, or my bookkeeping handled if I only did what I really want to do?”
Isn’t that interesting…. We’ve convinced ourselves that some of the things that make our life easy and harmonious are onerous tasks that we would never do without coercion! If I didn’t “have-to” clean the bathroom it would be filthy”—well, to quote Byron Katie, is that really true?
Really, what’s the likelihood that you wouldn’t wipe out the sink or brush out the toilet bowl when it was uncomfortably dirty and ugly? Would you really just let the dishes pile up in the sink forever? How likely is that? At some point you’d look at them and simply start loading them into the dishwasher, or fill up the sink with soapy water and swish a few through every once in a while as you were cooking—or something! Right?
In fact, at the time you’re inclined to do things like that, it’s no big deal; you almost go on automatic pilot while you’re remembering or contemplating something wonderful, like a guest coming over or the lovely evening you had last night, or the beauty of the sunrise or sunset. In some Buddhist monasteries, the young novices who clean up the kitchens after a meal are encouraged to think of the pots and pans as “Buddha’s body”—to realize that what they’re doing is a sacred act and part of their contemplation. And Brother Lawrence, the monastery kitchen helper who “practiced the Presence” became a powerful healer that way.
And that is how life is meant to be lived.
We do the small things that make life easier and more comfortable in and around the wonderful things that make life worthwhile.—not because we “should” but, because, in this moment, it feels perfectly right and fitting to be doing that.
So give yourself—body, mind, and soul—a break. Throw away the lists and set the intention that everything that needs to be done today for the wellbeing of everyone you care about gets done without your “shoiulding” on yourself. Join the movement for freedom from “shoiulds, oughts, musts, gottas and haftas” and be your wonderful, healthy, effective Self!