Statistics show that Americans are working harder, for longer hours, and are more productive than ever. Yet, few are getting ahead and most are grateful if they can just make ends meet. As stress-related illnesses account for an increasing number of doctor visits, the call to slow down and unplug has gotten louder. But juggling the demands of worldly life can often end up at odds with being attentive to our individual needs. Sometimes, knowing where to best make the trade-off is all we can do.
I’m often saying to people in my class that it doesn’t matter where you end up. Certainly true when it comes to a yoga asana. And on some level, I feel the same way about my broader life situation too. If I really step back for a moment then I can see that, on a macro level, there is much to life that is passing and I have no way of knowing what is going to happen. Attempting to overly control outcomes tends to bring disappointment more than the desired results.
But with some things, it does kind of matter where you end up, doesn’t it? Like if I end up not being able to pay my rent, that is going to matter. A lot. And if I neglect myself to a point of ill health, well that’s definitely going to matter too. So, it’s not enough to just suggest that it doesn’t matter. Or that there is some sort of easy way to solve the problems that arise when you are trying to enjoy your life while facing unreasonable circumstances. And let there be no mistake about it, the conditions we are living under are entirely unreasonable. Even within our privileged status, where we are not starving or in want of a roof over our head, we carry overwhelming burdens that are not inherent to life, but forged in a consumer economy.
Work is no longer tied to time and place.
In some ways, I am living the American dream. I am my own boss. I make my own hours. I do work that I find personally fulfilling. And a lot of what I am able to do is because of the new technology that has developed in the last ten years. I can run the daily operations of my business, order all necessary supplies, launch marketing campaigns and do my accounting all remotely from the phone in my pocket. You’d think that these technologies might give me more free time. But along with these digital advancements has also come the expectation of quicker action. There are a lot of pertinent communications that affect my business that are time-sensitive. If I shut my phone off and a teacher on staff has a last minute emergency then I end up with annoyed people standing out on the street thinking they need to find a new yoga center.
Now that everything is moving into a 24/7 information cloud, it is becoming more difficult to secure time away from work. It is not just a matter of discipline, but sacrifice. My personal need to unplug has to be weighed against the ramifications of not being immediately available to the demands of my responsibilities. Granted, this could easily be a justification for being a workaholic. But it’s not accurate to say that I can just unplug if I want to. Things could easily go bad quickly if I were to shut off my interfaces without contingency planning.
Nothing hard in life has ever been overcome in three simple steps.
Compounding the stress of our new world is a barrage of advertising for easy answers to complex situations. I sure wish there were a yoga pose that could secure me an extra twelve hours a day, or that if I were to eat enough turmeric my rent would go down, but this is not the case. I often feel like I’m juggling. Like I have a few too many balls in the air and I’m struggling to keep from dropping them. I mentioned this once to someone who happened to be a professional juggler and he said: “Well, do you want to know the key to being a master juggler? Knowing when to let the balls drop.”
Regardless of any inner states of contentment I may be able to bring about in myself through practice, whatever beliefs I may hold, my dreams are still inherently tied to economics and mores. The things I am looking to grow or sustain, any ideas I hope might come to fruition, can only happen if I am here in the midst of the storm. Playing my part. Only then will I ever be in a position to appreciate any calm that might come later. And maybe this calm I imagine will never come. Perhaps my life will just continue to feel like I have too much to do until I die.
I don’t know if life has always felt like such a hustle. But it often does now. Fortunately, it doesn’t always feel that way. There are times when I am able to relax enough that these concerns recede. Where I can feel that I am a whole being, with all of my trials, having my life. And that is enough. I need not seek for a fleeting happiness. Instead, I gently cling to the thin thread of joy that runs through.
This article originally appeared in J. Brown's blog here.