THE QUESTION OF NOT ENOUGH
With the anniversary of lockdown, I imagine many of us are looking back at the past year. I remember that first foggy morning, gazing into the city and listening to a kind of stillness I had never heard here before. It seems both like yesterday and forever ago.
For many people, the opportunity of this year was in having time to look closely at our patterns. The distraction of our social lives went away, and the way we truly live came into clear focus.
I settled into life without the scramble of the constant travel of my music career. In the new stillness, I recognized within me a welling up, a kind of panic of not doing enough, not getting enough done. Without shows on the horizon, some mornings I woke in a kind of confused spin. Then, I noticed that in this confusion was a feeling of futility. I will never get enough done, so I might as well not even start.
To witness this was a gift. Maybe there has always been this pushing, punishing dread of not doing enough, of not being enough. Maybe this has driven all my moments, and my impression of who I am. If I am not doing enough, then fundamentally, I am not enough. That’s a terrible feeling.
In my work as spiritual counselor, I find that many of us live with a feeling of not being enough. It is so painful to realize that we don’t see ourselves as whole. Most people I speak with feel this way.
I think of how of the Dalai Lama thought the translator had gotten it wrong when he translated an American asking about the cultural disease of self-hatred. Apparently, in the Dalai Lama’s world, people don’t feel that they’re not enough. The self is impossible to hate. The story reminds me that there might be another way to be.
The idea that accomplishment makes a life worth living is something that is given to us, by culture, and we make a collective decision to see life in this way. I know I’m touching on something very ingrained, because when I try to set down this belief, it feels like blasphemy, like I’m giving up or flaking off or getting lost.
There are so many ways I can defend this drive to do. Freud said “love and work, that’s all there is.” I believe that work is salvation. Salvation from purposelessness, boredom, disenfranchisement. I believe in having a purpose, making the most of our time. I believe that creative drive is the barometer of our life energy, and this is something to take pride in. The feeling of accomplishment of finishing a project, making the most of a day, working so hard I let go of sleep and nutrition and everything else in order to get things done, this has driven me, my whole life.
Not that I have gotten that much done. I have a deep judgment within that says nothing I have done is worthwhile. Nothing I have created has been of par, nothing has really come to fruition in the way I wanted it to. Much of my life was spent working for other people doing things I didn’t care about. This was my choice, and now when I see that I wonder how I could have let that happen.
Failure. I was not enough. I didn’t prioritize myself enough. A limited self-worth. The self-hatred that confused the Dalai Lama.
Once I identified all this muck, I started to investigate. The beautiful thing about training to be a counselor is that it is of primary importance to address your own stuff first. When you do this much interior work, you dive into places you never thought you’d get to. Funny how it becomes run of the mill to speak of things you never thought you could say out loud, with your friends, the other trainees. So many hidden parts of Clem have been brought to the light, and continue to be aired out and released.
To do this is a kind of surrender. I let go of attachments to identity, fully vulnerable. It is amazing freedom.
That judging voice was set into the light. Where did it come from, and why has it held such power? Then I asked, to whom does this voice speak? Who is this ‘doer’?
It speaks to Clem who wants to be first. Clem who wants to be best. Clem who wants to accomplish. Clem who wants to be loved.
That’s it, really. All of this energy to accomplish is really about wanting approval, wanting to be loved, wanting to be a part of the tribe and not shoved out into the woods, useless and bereft. Some of this is from upbringing, but it goes back far into our culture, into the cellular memory of ancestors brought through time in our DNA. We have to be useful in the way the tribe tells us to be, or risk being set atop a mountain to die.
In some ways, when my music career shut down, I felt it as an opportunity to rest. I saw how exhausted I was, and there were days in which I put no pressure on myself to do anything but to rest. With the clarity this brought, I started to consider that it might be possible to change the way I did things.
I had been wrestling with this identity of being the ‘doer’ for some time. In spiritual practice, I had glimpses of what it would be to take each moment as it comes, with no need to accomplish or create or do the things I had decided ‘should’ be done. Still, I felt it my nature to rise in the morning with the list in my head of work to be accomplished, and the feeling that I had already failed before I started. I couldn’t get past the fear of thinking that if I wasn’t accomplishing something, then I was a giving up, or wasting time or my life.
You put your feet out of bed and you start running. Otherwise, you are a waste.
The first way I thought to change this pattern was to experiment with allowing myself to really goof off. I did jigsaw puzzles, watched movies, caught up on magazines. This was fine, but I did realize that this wasn’t not ‘doing.’ This was avoiding. Avoiding something contains the energy of the thing you’re trying to avoid. It wasn’t an answer, it just seemed to amplify the feeling of not being enough.
I tried to envision what it would look like to just ‘be.’ To feel enough. To not have my activity define me and validate me and rank me. What does that way of being even look like?
First, to let go of the drive to accomplish is not the absence of activity. This is where I’ve gotten caught up in misunderstanding. This way of being is not stasis. I always envisioned it that way, just lying about, no desire or passion about anything. I think of The Great Gatsby, of Daisy Buchanan lying in the living room, rich and indolent:
The room, shadowed well with awnings, was dark and cool. Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols, weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans.
“We can’t move,” they said together.
Maybe my drive has been an answer to sexism or classism, of not wanting to be a decoration. Work as validation. This is probably more nuanced than I think.
So then what is the energy behind getting anything done? If you are not the ‘doer,’ if you are not driven by cultural signals of worth, then how to do?
My dear mentor has been leading me to this for years, and finally I begin to understand. The energy that animates us is joy. It’s not an easy answer, and yet it is the simplest. The reason to just ‘be’ is because apparently, we are meant to be happy.
If I write and play music and develop a healing practice and do the dishes and volunteer at my school and do my taxes and walk the dog and vacuum the carpet and read a book, there is a way to meet all of it with a kind of equanimity and delight in showing up for what is calling to be done.
When I get to the bottom of unworthiness, cut through all of the negative judgment and ways I believe I have failed or haven’t been good enough, once I fully accept myself as whole and perfect, then just ‘being’ is perfection itself.
I let go of need for anything to be any particular way. I just show up.
Being driven by joy doesn’t mean crummy things don’t happen, since pain and heartbreak are part of this human experience. The full spectrum of human emotion is here to be felt and experienced and lived through. This innate energy that lives in our moments when we are fully present moves us through experience in the full breadth of living.
This feeling of wholeness, of being enough, of balance and equanimity, allows us to surrender to what is presenting itself here and now. Right now. Right now.
When I stepped out of that panicked drive to do, suddenly I had so much more energy than I have ever had. I’ve had a lot, don’t get me wrong, but this is different, like a sustaining battery that just calls delight to me. There is within me something settled and unruffled.
Even as I was doing my taxes, I felt the deep satisfaction of being in the world, taking care of the things that are required in this reality. Doing the dishes, I enjoy the sense of taking care of this body and the house that holds it. Creating music or writing has no agenda or sense of having to ‘be’ anything but who I am. I step into the studio, practice drums, and go where I am called, in delight. I set goals, and feel a sense of anticipation of meeting them, without that sinking feeling of not being good enough to ever get there.
I watch as a kind of sadness rises sometimes, about how there will never be enough time to do it all. I never thought I cared about living very long, but somehow now the ticking down of the clock is a little poignant, since in this way of being, there is just so much to love.
Sadness is fleeting. It is difficult to worry. We are enough. We are perfect as we are. Here in this moment, take a breath and feel for one moment that nothing needs to be fixed, nothing to be done, nothing to be accomplished. You are not what you do, and you do not need to be fixed. You are perfect as is, as you take this breath, and this one. When we remember this, we find ourselves fully present in our moments, and we light the way, no matter the task at hand.
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