16 Sep Undoing
A few months ago a friend suggested that I check out Tara Brach, who teaches about meditation. This video popped up today and I found it to be very connected to our work on “All The Rage”.
The focus of this talk is about becoming aware of our addiction to “doing”. “Doing” is the opposite of “being”. Over the last year as I have worked at learning how to mediate, or just be, I’ve found the process to be very useful in revealing to me more about myself than I ever wanted to know. All kidding aside, when I first began mediating, after a breath or two, my mind would start chattering away again. Now, 12 months later, I can usually get through three breaths.
I’ve made progress. Now I can see that the awareness of that thinking is not “the thinker” of those thoughts but instead the of them. That “thinking chatter” is connected to the compulsion to do. As soon as I focus on my breath I’m bombarded with thoughts about the leaky toilet, or the email I need to send, or the dinner I have to cook. I’ve learned to be more aware of the process, and the chatter has become a lot less intense.
When I’m not carving out small moments to meditate I’m always photographing, or working, or working on a photo, or reading, or writing, or something. It takes a huge effort for me to break the “doing” pattern and carve out 10-20 minutes for stillness. The camera on my phone died yesterday. This is the last picture I made with it. I might have to just let it be broken for a little while, because my “doing” of photos is something that is clearly addictive. I have been increasingly making photos in a more aware way, but old patterns die hard.
I was living in a very cheap apartment on Ave B in the early 90’s when I first got out of college. I worked as a bike messenger, a typist, a sperm donor (that’s another film), and I played in a band. Since my rent was so cheap I only had to work a few days a week to meet my basic needs of coffee, beer, and beans. I used to joke though, that even though I was Jewish, I had a very deep protestant work ethic. On those days off I rarely went to do “fun” things. Instead I wrote, drew, painted, and worked on music. The work was intense, and I felt like I was slacking off if I didn’t kind of work myself into an uber-focused frenzy. I would drink coffee all day to facilitate working as hard as I did. I would then have to drink a lot of beer starting in the afternoon to take the edge off that intense work mode. I wasn’t working for profit, and it was fun, but it was also exhausting. I rarely sold the work that I produced, because that wasn’t my goal. Instead I was working to fulfill my need “to do”. I think it had something to do with living up to an idea I had of who I was supposed to be, that clashed somewhat with who I wanted to be. As such the talk above really resonated with me.
I liked working creatively like that. However, I can see how the behavior was addictive on some level because I still have those patterns. I’ll sometimes sit down to knock out emails related to one of our films, and a couple of hours later I’ll look up, wondering how I got so lost in the work. I unconsciously measure what I’ve done against what I need to do, and I start all over again. In some ways, when I do a lot of work, this process makes me feel like I have accomplished something. The need for this sense of “having done” makes it clear to me how it fits into a pattern of “addiction to doing”.
The problem is, that it takes a toll on my body. When I was young I could recover more quickly, but it adds up over time. Yesterday, I crammed a lot of work into a couple of hours because I had gone to a funeral that morning. Maybe it’s because the gentleman who had passed away, a 96 year old doctor who worked until recently, was one of the more accomplished people I have been lucky enough to know, but when I got home I worked harder than ever. In any case I only had a few hours of work time. By the time I had to take my daughter to gymnastics my leg was tight as a drum. I dropped her off and ran to the pool. As I swam I tried to “double-dip” and combine my exercise with meditation by focusing on my breathing. It worked to a degree, and I felt my leg loosening up.
This morning I repeated the process. My leg is less tight today though, because I have been pausing and being aware of how my body reacts to the stress of trying “to do”. Even as I write this though, I type a little to fast, and get a little too lost in the work. One small step, and one conscious breath, at a time.