We think it’s the situation. We feel the pressure comes from the deadlines, or the bosses, or the schedule, or maybe it’s the kids, family obligations, commitments or responsibilities. But we tend to experience it as an outside-in kind of pressure but that’s misleading because it’s really inside-out.
Pressure isn’t some force your boss sends through an email or that your kids write down in your schedule. It’s something we create within ourselves with our resistant thinking and yet it’s a useful signalling system. Feeling down is not the same as overwhelmed and if there’s one thing I see a lot of otherwise “successful” people doing, it is being overwhelmed.
We’re in the midst of one of worst recessions ever where I live and you can easily tell that a lot of the population is struggling with bills, juggling two part time jobs instead of one full time (if they’re lucky), and they can’t afford as much external support etc. etc. etc. Bosses know they can be more demanding in a tight job market, and the time and money challenges impact marriages, kids relationships with their parents, diets, and even health. As I often remind people, nowhere in the deal to be human does it say that life will only give you 50 marbles for your 50 marble jar.
Pressure starts on the 51st marble and increases from there. Eventually we can get to the point where no matter what we accomplish with busy-ness we’re still seeing marbles drop all over the place. By then we know we’ve waited a bit long to act and so the universe is starting to yell. You may think it’s outside-in pressure, but the universe understands it’s inside-out.
The so-called pressure is created by you wanting to hold onto all of those marbles and their relative importance, so you take on too much work to try to prevent losses. It is also created by watching marbles fall and wanting that to stop, so that also creates a painful sense of loss. And finally, it is also created by wanting to avoid the consequences if we let the marbles fall. Since the first two are impossible, the reduction in resistance (aka pressure) will take place only when we cease imagining a future that can’t exist and we quiet our minds and accept our current situation and then make our sacrifice.
As an example, I have to make my own decisions about being overloaded with marbles. Not only do recessions tend to create a lot of marbles, but so does looking after two elderly parents and their many appointments, keeping up with two households and two yards, all while trying to maintain a high level of work and also accomplishing some critical administration tasks that modern life requires. Right now, my daily demands would literally take 28 hours per day to complete. Oh yeah, and I’d like to sleep and eat in there too somewhere.
For those reasons and many others, starting next week I’m cutting the blog down to one a week for the remainder of the summer. The timing is coincidental but good. A lot of my regular readers are less frequent in summer (understandably), but the real reason is I simply cannot afford the time.
The blog is important to me because I know it’s helped people I’ve never even met except by email or phone, and I know it’s also a touchstone for many of my former students and that they use it keep themselves on track. In both groups, I’m pleased to report that those that keep themselves the most balanced read the blog the most. So I know it has a lot of value to a lot of you but I must weigh that against my context. As important as each marble is, I simply cannot hold more than 50.
So how do I decide what to spill? That’s a personal judgment call every time, but if we resign ourselves to the fact that these decisions actually need to be made then we can just wake up from our pressured suffering and remember that we are still free. We prioritize things and then cut from the bottom. It’s actually quite easy, it just takes a while before we’re prepared to accept that, without changes, we’ll never catch up on our marbles. The time in between is called pressure, but it will always be created by delayed decisions and it will always be resolved by deciding which sacrifices to make.
We can be a bit like the proverbial frog in boiling water with pressure. The temperature can rise slowly and we can accommodate our expectations to a degree, but eventually we’re scalded with some harsh, painful truth. So it’s better to drop the excess marbles before someone tries to add so many that they smash the whole glass. And dropping them won’t even be too painful. You just have to remember to avoid focusing on the 20 that fall so you can focus on the 50 you saved instead.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.