I had a WhatsApp conversation with someone I admire over the holiday week that I am pretty sure most people, especially those of you who are good at life, will understand. The person is pretty amazing at life, has achieved a lot and is well acquainted with success, but they hit a wall during the quiet zone between Christmas and New Years. They had, like most of us, pressed hard at work to meet all the pre-Christmas deadlines, faced many of the same issues many of us faced in 2021, and at the same time as ending the year well professionally they hustled to make sure that Christmas was special for their family. Like a vehicle going at breakneck speed, they hurtled toward the holiday, the cooking, the prep, the wrapping, the hosting, and slammed hard into the sudden silence of Boxing Day. In that period of stillness that comes right after the dinner cleanup and taking out all the wrapping paper trash they found themselves suddenly in a pool of tears, all at once aware of the accumulated overwhelm.
Many of us do this. We cope, we adjust, we manage, we do, we fight, we work, we show up, and very rarely do we just stop. We even misguidedly take pride in our ability to do these things without stopping. However, when we DO stop, whether forced to do so by health or by accident, or suddenly silent after a hard push like the person who messaged me, the responses we have been collecting in the subconscious part of our humanity come down all at once like a deluge. It can feel like a landslide of emotions, and we judge ourselves as irrational for suddenly finding ourselves brought to our knees with very little sign of a trigger. We feel crazy for reacting to nothing or being easily triggered by a minor inconvenience. But we aren’t crazy! We just got hit by the last straw, the feather added to the tons of weight we have already been carrying for months or even years!
In my own life I have learned that I do something similar with trauma. I will cope, power through, move forward with numb efficiency and cold directness through and past a traumatic event. Then three months later I am suddenly plagued by nightmares. I will wake up terrified at 3 a.m. each night for weeks until the feelings have been fully rinsed out of my system. It has happened a few times since I became conscious of the pattern with the help of a therapist. Now I can almost mark my calendar with the day that my subconscious will catch up with my experiences and force me to feel the things I put on ice and then skated over.
Years as packed with momentum and change as the ones we recently lived through bring with them the ingenuity and clarity birthed by necessity. They force us to cope in order to survive. At the same time, they mercilessly highlight our cracks, our weaknesses, our inefficiencies. The velocity of our fast moving time calls for greater functional integrity, and the intensity of our times acts as a magnifying glass for us to better see the things we need to shift. But, if we never stop and sit, wait and listen, we may miss the opportunities and the lessons and run the risk of hitting brick wall after brick wall of unprocessed change.
Can we create more stillness please?
It is my hope that we learn how to do something different through The Less Experiment. I am hoping we can discover structures that support us to do less, to create pockets of stillness at reasonably short intervals allowing us to process our experiences more effectively. What I would love to see for my friend and all the persons in the experiment is for us to make more space for the good things, and process change in real time. May it create an alternative to being brought to our knees at the first sign of stillness.