Joyful effort in the face of apathy

November to February is my least favourite time of year.  I feel a natural decline in mood and increase in apathy.  It’s the best word to describe this kind of personal dissociation that is one of my many afflictions.  I’ve felt it creeping around for a while and especially this week.  It’s that ‘I don’t care about anything much and couldn’t be bothered with or about anything either’. I find myself sucked into unhelpful nothingness of social media scrolling and escapeful TV that demand zero engagement or activity.  I see it. And slowly, this seeing without judging the apathy pokes me, gently, to take some helpful actions.  Mindfulness for me is that awareness without judging, whatever is going on in that moment.  And it is also the choice that presents with this awareness.  I can be the doctor to my ails.  I can accept this apathy and I can also take action to help me along these apathetic days. The action is not to get rid of you see.  It is to exercise that choice that is part of being. The choosing action that keeps that broader space open.  So the apathy is still there.  But I don’t have to have it consume me and bleed on.

So this morning, as I scrolled inanely from my bed.  I woke up. To the choices available to me in the seeing. The antidote to apathy is effort I decide.  Not a forced and frenetic effort.  But a calm, easy, open and yet deliberate effort.  I resolved to take 3 actions:

1. To practise some morning-gratitude.

I was grateful for the seeing.  For the bed I rested on.  For the daylight entering the room. For the house that gives me warmth and shelter.

2. To name some helpful actions or goals for today.

Simply to take care of my house and garden today.  That I work hard for so time to invest some care and attention this way. To make some nourishing food including a soup with a star ingredient of a massive courgette gifted to me from someone’s garden last month.  Taking a walk.

3. To actively step away from unhelpful habits that feed the apathy.

No TV by day. Eating meals at the kitchen table. And in the face of resistance, joyfully remembering intentional effort and gratitude for the time and space to be so deliberate today.

It made for a surprisingly satisfying day.  My garden robin made an appearance and brought a smile to my face.  The joy of completing tasks set, even though simple and everyday in nature, a feeling of accomplishment was there and satisfaction in that accomplishment. And discovering new readings and teachings through the day as I allowed the quiet, slow, spacious day unfold.

One of the teachings I discovered at the end of this day echoed my day’s discovery: some teachings on a poem written by the 7th Dalai Lama, Gems of Wisdom.  Specifically Verse 52 – antidote to apathy.  And that antidote? Joyous effort.  For me that joy is not an extreme emotion – it is a gentle and quiet kind of joy, it’s a quality of openness to the possibility of a positive state of mind.

I learned there are 4 steps to this joyous effort: 

1. Joy.

To have a positive outlook.  To see all that is good in this moment.  This resonated for me as my morning gratitude action. And this is backed up by scientific psychology these days – how daily gratitude practice is associated with higher levels of optimism and happiness.

(https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier)

2. Generate aspiration.  

By seeing the benefits of the project we are engaging in.  I guess like positive psychology’s discovery on the importance of meaningful purpose.  For me today, that was taking care of my house and garden, enjoying and appreciating this home by taking care of it.

(http://www.positivepsyc.com/blog/the-meaning-of-life-the-m-in-perma)

3. Mindfulness.

This is the awareness and choice dimension that arises from that awareness. What we practice grows stronger neuroscience tells us these days.  So how I choose to engage the mind and body today grows stronger.

(https://www.mindful.org/practice-grows-stronger/)

4. Pliancy.

This is a kind of mental and physical flexibility. For me this is making sure there is daily physical activity to keep the body moving.  And in adopting this openness attitude and moving away from habitual actions that are not serving me in this moment, for me that is flexing this pliancy.

(https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201508/why-does-physical-activity-improve-cognitive-flexibility)

 

The other message I get in this short 15 minute teaching – we truly have many answers within ourselves if we pay attention with a helpful attitude.  It is helpful to have these teachers and teachings to remind us and keep the motivation going in the foggy moments.

(http://thubtenchodron.org/2014/09/cultivating-joy/)

 

Apathy is still here but so too is some joy and satisfaction.  I was even inspired enough to write this blog!

 

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