At times, someone convinces me to take on a task I later regret. Then I wonder how I got hooked.
For example, I attend a temple I love and usually I do about three hours of gratifying volunteer work per week. With in-person meetings banned during the pandemic, I no longer sing in the choir and serve refreshments on Sundays. I find myself attending Zoom services and helping with fund-raising a little. Currently, my volunteer time is only about one hour per month. While Covid-19 still rages, the biennial committee elections occur and I’m nominated. I enjoy my temple friends and want to spend more time with them, even on Zoom. Also, I feel guilty that, during the pandemic, I haven’t done nearly as much service as I used to. However, the main compulsion that drives me to accept their nomination is: they want me. This is a major weak spot.
When anyone desires my presence, I turn into a slavering servant, willing to do anything to please them. Imagined guilt can pull the trigger on making a commitment that would be a mistake. These character defects have led to past disasters.
I’ve learned the hard way that, using the outer guise of affection or friendship, some family members and “friends” can manipulate me for favors or money. The more generous I am, the more they want. Fixating on what I perceive might be “love” can lead to decades of struggle with these difficult relationships.
I now know how to talk myself down from self-destructive tendencies. The temple wants me to work on committees. In reality, I hate sitting for hours with people discussing minutia. As an introvert, after one-half hour, it seems like someone’s pulled an internal plug and my energy drains away. In my career as a university department chairman, I sat through many hours of meetings and I feel I’ve fulfilled all karmic debts regarding committees. However, I still have niggling guilt about not wanting to accept the temple’s nomination. I reason to myself that I’ll continue to help them informally, here and there, as befits my temperament. I decide to put my needs first. In spite of the remorse, I say “No,” to the formal nomination. In doing so, I successfully dodge my old habit of giving too much of myself.
In other parts of my life, I’ve discovered positive patterns, commitments I make that give me endless rewards. When I go for a walk alone, my body tingles with delight. The exercise proves to be addictive. The more I walk, the more my physical and mental faculties crave the next outing. My doctor and her blood tests approve. Some days, I feel lazy and mentally say, I don’t have time. I’ve learned to tune into my muscles that seem to call out, Hey, let’s go now! My legs rather than my mind spark an affirmative decision.
Creating art is similar to exercise. If I put it off or tell myself, I’m not up to it today, I pause to remember the joy of being in the zone, a happy state that happens when I draw, paint and make designs. Once I pick up the paintbrush, a blissful process takes over and I’m lost in an artistic whirl for hours. It helps that my art agent schedules several exhibits per year and constantly needs new work. Her incentives also provide great reasons to plunge into creativity’s nexus.
Oddly, working with numbers can put me in a timeless pleasant space. Focusing on spreadsheets and account statements seems to jumpstart endorphins. I spend enjoyable hours, lost in numerical patterns.
Interacting with groups of people can create positive flow at times. Pre-pandemic, singing in my choir, with all voices responding to the director’s slightest move seemed magical. We literally created group harmony that surged through my body leaving an inner vitality in its wake. An acupuncturist told me that singing vibrates energy meridians in the body, creating the exuberance I experienced. What delightful motivation for traveling through congested 5pm traffic each Thursday evening to get to choir practice.
In university art classes I taught, while the students worked on an inspiring project such as “drawing an object that helped you solve a problem,” I sensed a unity of purpose in the room. It took years to overcome my terror of public speaking, which is the essence of communicating with college-age adults. I decided to focus on the positive energies in the room and this kept me teaching art for thirty years.
Three times a week, I meditate with a group. Like singing in a choir and teaching art, it’s easy to get hooked because of the special communal feeling that happens. It’s not dramatic like a drug or alcohol high. Rather, I experience a gentle, but pervasive and deep sense of well-being that seems to envelope us all. It feels fragile and beautiful.
As I learn to cultivate the good hooks and weed out the bad, I’m grateful I’ve lived long enough to discover the difference.