We meet an old friend in the street. “Hi”, we exclaim amidst the hugs and kisses (or perhaps hearty backslaps if you are a man), “it’s been way too long!”. And then often the next question is “what have you been doing lately?”
How do you react to that question? Do you panic a little, feeling the need to come up with something that sounds at least a little bit exciting? Especially if their answer is “oh, we’ve just come back from an overseas trip/renovated our house/done a course in Mongolian breathing techniques (so good – you should try it) and been selected for the next round of My Kitchen Rules”.
When we’re asked to account for how we’ve spent our time – how we’ve been using this one precious life – it’s interesting to note what we consider important enough to mention. The everyday things which make up much of our lives usually don’t make the cut. Nor do the little moments of joy, wonder and contentment. Planting tomatoes, hugging grandchildren, working, cleaning, eating meals, being family (friend, workmate, neighbour) – these little things are often the significant things that “we’ve been doing lately”. But they seem a little lame to offer up as an answer.
Even the question itself says something about our cultural obsession with activity, action and progress. There’s an African greeting which goes “Are you in your skin?”. In other words, are you present to yourself? Is your attention here, in this encounter? Some tribal greetings consist of lengthy questions about the well-being of every family member. Indigenous people may ask where you are from. These greetings reflect different priorities – about connection to self, community or to place.
Changing the questions we ask changes our focus and also the answers we are going to get. For instance what if were to flip the question “what have you been doing lately?” on its head and ask instead “what haven’t you been doing?”.
It’s a bit like the art concept of negative space. This is the space around and between an image, which can be just as important as the image itself. In other words, what’s not there matters as much as what is there. Making sense? No?
Think of it this way. For everything we choose to do with our time, that means there are things we are choosing not to do. And it is always a choice, whether we are conscious of it or just slip into “default mode”. Asking this question encourages us to think about other possibilities. There are a trillion ways to spend our time (yes, I’ve counted them. Of course I didn’t just make up that figure). Sometimes it’s good to take time to ask “what else could I be doing?”. And to then consider “why aren’t I?”
Of course there may be very good reasons why not. But asking the question means that we are making a conscious choice. Our time is one of our most precious commodities. How we choose to spend – or not spend – it tells us a lot about what we value, what we feel capable of, what we fear, and what we can envisage. In fact, we could say “show me your timetable and I’ll show you who you are”. Now that’s a slightly scary thought…
In the spirit of scientific enquiry (and not wanting to suggest a stupid idea that didn’t work), I asked myself that question, and wrote down the first things that came into my head. Top of the list was “I haven’t climbed Everest lately”. Well, duh!
However, when I added the next question ‘why not”, I came up with a list of eight reasons. And as I looked at it, I realized that many of the reasons were the same limiting beliefs that stop me from doing the things I really do want to do. Those things that I say I want, but I’ve let them get pushed to the side, covered over and smothered in a blanket of excuses. In my next post, I’ll share what those excuses are, and you may find you use some of the same ones. In fact, why don’t you take a few minutes, grab your pen and paper, and write down your own list of things you haven’t been doing lately? Make it as crazy as you like (but you might find some important ones slip in there too). And then pick one and make a list of as many reasons as you can why you haven’t done it. We can compare lists next week. So go to it!
Have a great week, doing or consciously not-doing – the choice is yours:)