I’ve lightened the load, setting down a lot of very cumbersome shoulds, and toxic, musts, over the last while, and it’s turning out to be the most freeing thing. I’m on the look out for anything that smacks of following along blindly, surveying the things I do, that we all tend to do, because it’s just what’s done. The things that carve giant ruts into our lives because we repeat doing them over and over without ever stopping to ask how, or even if, doing them still serves us. What I’m asking, to make it super simple for myself is, does this bring me joy? If the answer is no, its head is officially on the chopping block.
In the performance of duties, and being dutiful, we’ve forgotten that it’s in being of service where we’re most powerful and alive. And service without joy is no service at all. It’s drudgery.
For instance this past Christmas, my family and I consciously opted to downsize duty and become the gifts we wish to see in the world, rather then buy them. In other words, we enjoyed each other without succumbing to pressure – the kind that infers that buying stuff for each other personifies caring in a way that nothing else can. Granted, it was a bit easier because we have no little ones in the mix at the moment. After all, who doesn’t relish finding reindeer tracks and cookie crumb remains at dawn on Christmas morning, right before the Santa wrapping paper starts to fly? But maybe what we’re setting those same little ones up for is a lifetime of conditioning that prizes ‘stuff’ over being with each other as total presence, instead of partial, gift-wrapped ones.
So this year, without the rigmarole of doing things the way we’ve always done them, the only thing lacking was frenzy, and exhaustion. It felt really good. Not to mention that it left more time for an authentic tradition that we genuinely love – eating, drinking, and being merry. Together.
It’s unfortunate that the word, condition, rhymes with, tradition, – cause for confusion and crossed wires. Traditions are simpler, joyful things that connect us to our families, our heritage, our communities, and our faith, and can be age-old, or brand spanking new. Condition, by definition means, do it this way for the sake of appearances, or you’ll be letting someone down who has expectations. Conditioning is code for “let the sweating begin”.
Some would argue that retail therapy, and the departure from so-called reality that it allows in December every year is a good thing. It’s tradition, not conditioning, they’d say, along with, “don’t be a party pooper.” I think that’s what our dentist’s receptionist meant when she gave me the cut-eye, after I replied to my favourite question [not] of the holidays. “Are you all ready for Christmas?” In fairness, I did say that it was “going to be our first bullshit-free holiday ever”, which I admit wasn’t as jolly a retort as I’m conditioned to expect myself to give.
Breaking the cycle of conditioning can lack grace at first, clearly. Breaking anything is an untidy proposition. But like a cast set to protect a broken leg, when it’s done its job, it’s got to come off and let the skin breathe. Our conditioning makes us forget to feel how itchy we are to be free of the things we once thought we needed to keep our end of the bargain up, deflect negativity, and keep us out of harm’s way. But when we want freedom more than perceived safety, when we want it more than the idea that we can skirt around trouble by being obedient – that’s when we notice the itch that just has to be scratched, and not a moment before. Before we want that, we’re just too afraid to rock the boat.
And I’m glad to say that after Christmas, there’s 364 more days of even more conditioned thinking lying in wait, ripe for autopsy. I’ll keep asking the, “does this bring me joy?” question, with a plan for enlisting other poignantly pointy ones to help scatter any sheepishness. Everything and anything that I once thought was true that isn’t actually, will be laid out on a cool, stainless steel table awaiting the pathologist’s touch that I’m discovering has been in me, all along.
Infinite questions with themes like:
But since the answer to all of the above is a very simple, NO, I’m free. And when I answer the rest of the questions on the list in my head, I’ll likely need to be peeled off the ceiling. And in my newly light and airy being, having shed so much crap, I can see I’ll be spending less time reporting on how ‘busy’ I am, and more time allowing joy, even amid what still needs doing in the unavoidably mundane category. (My favourite statement [not], “we’ve been so busy, don’t know where the days go.”) Honestly, if I say that ever again, or hear it once more from someone else, wait for the primal scream heard around the world. Busy doing what? Busy being overwhelmed by stuff to do that doesn’t matter, while joy is taking a seat way too far back in the bus? Even wild animals aren’t busy every minute, for God’s sake. They hunt, and then they lollygag in the sun.
Anyway, I’ll finish by saying that yesterday, a finer example of Pavlovian dog conditioning couldn’t have drooled more effectively, in our general direction. We routinely buy our fuel at a First Nations reserve about fifteen minutes from our home. It’s significantly cheaper, by ten cents per litre, so it’s worth the little trek. My husband needed fuel and texted me that he’d be late as he was heading up to the reserve. He was however, on a job site less than two minutes away from another reserve with equivalent prices. The penny didn’t drop for him until he got in the car, about to drive the thirty minutes to the spot we usually go.
Sometimes we all just forget where we are for a bit.