Busy Body

Hydrangea, Ba'Hai Temple, Wilmette, IL

Hydrangea, Ba'Hai Temple, Wilmette, IL

I want to do all the things.  

Take all the classes, teach all the classes, work all the jobs, make all the art, earn all the money, see all the shows, eat ALL* the food, see all the shows, travel to all the cities and jungles and mountains and countrysides: I can't seem to help myself, I just want it all. I don't accept the idea that I can't have it all, either, that I have to choose. 

(Jeeze, it wasn't that long ago that I wrote a post about contentment, right?  Sounds like there's more growing left for me to do, huh?)

But I can't do it all, I guess. I physically, literally can't do all the things I want to do. I can't go to an ashram in India and a beach in Mexico and a tango club Buenos Aries and work in Chicago all at the same time. I can't work as a yoga teacher and an essayist and an editor and a dancer and devote my life to my spiritual practice as a nun or a minister all at the same time. 

I get excited about opportunities, and I want to say yes to everything there is to do, and I find myself over-committed, and then I have to walk back my involvement. I'm not alone in this, though. Everyone I talk to talks about how busy they all are: with work, with family, especially nowadays with holiday parties. We're all over-committed: because it tastes so good, because it's so much fun, because we said we would, because if we don't we won't get paid, whatever the reason, there's too much of it. 

So I was walking down the street the other day, lamenting the limitations of a 24-hour day, and I began to consider the yamas. The first limb of yoga, I think of these as the social protocols: the yamas instruct us on how to behave toward others. (This is a gross oversimplification, I know; of course it's important we show ourselves ahimsa with positive self-talk, healthy habits, etc. It's just an interesting view of these behaviors in the yoga sutras.) There's a list of them all--nonviolence, honesty, greedlessness, nonstealing--it's not a long list, but its comprehensive. As I walked, the yama that drew my focus was brahmacharya.

Brahmacharya is often translated to celibacy, abstinence, or moderation. In threads of yoga, Matthew Remski translates it as sexual responsibility, and I've heard it literally translated as walking with God. There's all kinds of talk about this particular yama: practicing brahmacharya preserves and generates ojas, the nectar that nourishes us all; sex is an attachment, whether to a person or to an activity, and to abstain from it maintains our purity and we can overcome sex as an obstacle to spiritual knowledge. Sex is a distraction from an aversion, and we should use sex responsibly in order not to avoid dealing with the reality or the struggle of our lives. 

(For the record, I'm not sure I buy this as a line of thinking. I can get on board absolutely with the idea of not engaging in reckless behavior, sexual or otherwise. But I'm not down with the perception of sex as an obstacle to spiritual knowledge wholesale. I think sex can be incredibly healing, and even an act of worship.)

I started to think about the idea of brahmacharya as not giving away too much of your time, your abilities, your energy. If yoga calls us to be good stewards of our life force, maybe we're sexually responsible as well as not overfilling our schedules, or even glutting on favorite TV shows (what are people binge-watching right now? I always pick the show I like, rarely the show that's trending.) 

This practice feels a little revolutionary in my world right now. I make a living giving: my time, my talents, my energy; I don't think I could do work that wasn't generous at its core. Just my nature I guess. So to consider giving less is a little weird to consider. I don't think being mindful of energetic waste means not doing the work I do, of sharing yoga, and creating spaces for health and education; I think it means maybe valuing my time. 

In order to avoid over committing, I have to look closely at my life's values, at what I want my time, energy, work and integrity to stand for. If I value my time, do I really give it away watching lousy reality TV on Bravo , or do I spend it with the people that I love, and don't see often enough? If I need nourishment, does it come from a workout or a healthy, balanced meal, or from a cup of Five Guys french fries? 

It's not easy, but it's important. I love what I do, but I don't want to be one of the people who's always too busy, who says Yes and then has to say No later on, who is double- or triple-booked. I don't quite know how to start. I'm hoping to use some compassion, and patience, and hope that the world can show me that as well.


*I don't really want to eat all the food. Just all the gluten-free, vegan food. Eat. It. All