Tender

Tender

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vigilance vs Presence

I am very attached to my vigilance.

At any given time, I have more processes running than a network of computers could handle. I am up-to-the-minute aware of the status of everything I have responsibility for. I rarely let anything go without a checkin for more than an hour, and trust me, there is a lot to fit in. It can get in the way of my work, so I've learned to turn it down, barricade off for bursts of time, but it's always there. Work stuff, home stuff, me stuff, everyone (!) I know stuff, the world, the community, the microcosm, the macrocosm, the state of humanity, everything. Cycle cycle cycle. Not only the checkins, but the constant, up-to-the-second ranking and prioritization in relation to time constraints and my capabilities - it's like watching the stock exchange and I am the central processor and all the traders.

Whenever it gets a bit overloaded in there and I choose to let something of slightly lower priority or longer time frame rest for a bit, I inevitably get pulled back to a checkin slightly panicked, with an elevated sense of urgency to be on top of that. It's how I make sure everything gets done. Do I drop things? Occasionally, but I think my record is pretty good. When I choose to let something go, even briefly, either things go awry or I get stressed.

I'm like a squirrel - have you ever watched one? The are never still for a second. Quivering vigilance keeps them revving even in idle, their little haunches quivering oh-so-slightly, ready to leap at the first sign of danger. Using every sense, every second, to stay safe. And it works. They're fast! And I've seen some narrow escapes, some true acrobatics that they execute because they know exactly where they are and where the danger is. Or maybe I see what I want to see.


I've tried to place some of the burden on external systems, putting order in place to replace some of my vigilance. Incredulous, I watch myself sabotage my efforts to use computer systems, task lists, or any number of time management tools. I'm simply not reliable. I will often prioritize writing things down and planning things out below the actual doing, because my mind has already constructed a framework and 2/3 of a plan, and execution is the key.  I don't want to let go of the control and immediacy of knowing, placing my faith in a system instead of myself. 

I also suspect, deep down, that I want to keep my vigilance sharp. I am semi-deliberately unreliable at sticking to a system, just so I'll never feel quite certain of the system. That way, I won't get soft and lazy.

But it's tiring. I didn't used to find it so. It's since I added two kids, changed profession and sector to remove all familiarity gains, and committed myself to fast-paced self-reflective personal development that I'm frayed around the edges.

The vigilance gets in my way. I try to practice deep pleasure in the moment I am in, as often as I can, and all the cycles and weighing and checking bombards me instead. I give the moment less than 1/10th of my attention, and even that is eroded by worry that the other 90% isn't enough for what it's working on. I feel perpetually distracted.


I also feel as though I have a responsibility to know everything, to be aware of everything happening in the universe, all the time, so that I can be in a position to see the big patterns and help shape the course of human events. You heard me. Arrogant, huh?

Why do I have such a sense of grandeur? It doesn't feel that way to me. I don't feel equal to it, I just feel called to it. I know I have some developing talents that could make it possible for me to one day change the world. Yet, I'm a small-town nobody, plugging away at tasks and trying to make sense of what changing the world even means to me. I feel a sense of obligation to be ready and watchful on my path, looking for the best way, at every moment, to serve. I'm not sure about that word, serve, but it insists that I use it.

Thus, I come around to this paradox of craving presence and vigilance. I have always given vigilance big preference for being the safer option. Now, I'm less certain. As my spirit asserts itself more, I feel it hemmed in by all those existing processes. It's not so different from my external life, trying to find my way in a tangled web of people, politics and processes.

Who has been here? Who has found the secret passage around or through this collision of will? How can I get my mind to give up its vigilance for more than 5 minutes? How can I begin to reprogram how I evaluate what I can afford to trust to the universe and what I must do to be a good wife, parent, employee, citizen, friend?

I would cherish your experience and advice.

9 comments:

  1. Well holy cow, Louise, I just tweeted this, but seriously, are you looking inside my brain? Which obviously means that I don't have the solution, but I am right there with ya!
    The weird thing is that I do so much better when I am insanely busy juggling, it is when things slow down that I forget to do things...

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  2. Exactly that for me - it's like I let my guard down and in the relief my mind takes an opportunity to push off everything that's not immediate. It almost always bites me.

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  3. I found a lot of relief in Stoicism - particularly in a work of Epictetus' called The Encheiridion.

    http://classics.mit.edu/Epictetus/epicench.html

    What it's given me is the ability to say, "I don't have to worry about that, because I can't control it." Stoicism, oddly enough, is complementary to Christianity - it is the only school of Philosophy mentioned in the Bible.

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  4. Interesting, thank you. I think I've always associated stoicism with passive, dismissive, passive/aggressive and/or fatalistic approaches. I'll be interested in understand more.

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  5. Ok, wow! I wish I could give you something to hold on to...something tangible. it seems we're all in this weird place where we are trying to figure out how to be better, how to do better. Here's what I think: I think you are better. I think you are doing everything to a more perfect degree. I hear it in your words -- words you've given to me. Words that make me feel a sense of belonging and wholeness. You are doing the things you should. Maybe you're putting off the things you should as well. Listen to your own words. Breathe. I believe in you.

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  6. "I also feel as though I have a responsibility to know everything, to be aware of everything happening in the universe, all the time, so that I can be in a position to see the big patterns and help shape the course of human events." oh lord, louise, this is so me. i swear, a family of 12 could live comfortably for at least 2 full weeks from the contents of my pocketbook. i so get this. i so do this. you, me, thelma. we must've been separated at birth.

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  7. you're the "and" that connects our "mrs"

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  8. Understand this way of life totally. I lived like this for years and years. Everything was in my inventory module and checked and rechecked. Now I'm so laid back birds nest in my wild curly hair. Well, not really, but it seems that way. Everything important seems to get done, nobody dies, the house is organized and clean - must be elves or ghosts :) I would never recommend my method of life-changing as it involved an 18 month toe-to-toe nearly losing fight with systemic antibiotic resistant staph-A. Somehow that sorted out for me important and not so important and showed me finally and definitively that *I* do not need to keep track of everything in the universe. Not much help here, I guess :)

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  9. I think this touches a nerve, particularly for women. My college roommate (and still best friend) used to say she had a hard time sitting in a room with me because I was always in motion. I have learned to set some things aside, temporarily. I've learned that it's okay to relax, to just be. I don't always remember to do that and my husband will tell me "Breathe!" I don't like to be told that at the time, but then I pause, reflect, and do just that. And for me, I need that renewal time to be productive, thoughtful, and at peace.

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