Upholding Ma'at

Journeying through the modern world with ancient ways.

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When to Walk Away from Commitments

“Follow your desire as long as you live and do not perform more than is ordered…”

-The Maxims of Ptahhotep, transl. by R.O. Faulkner

It’s no secret to those in my life this holiday season tends to be tough on me.  In fact it’s hard on a significant amount of people.  The stress of planning, shopping, meetings, gatherings, and the accumulation of many projects.  I ended up with a reminder from a friend about being busy as opposed to sedulous.  Most of the reminder emerged from my personal feelings about some of my commitments to online events as well as helping my family decorate for Christmas.  Despite my hatred of Christmas and observe it for the sake of my family I partook in not one but two holidays to which I feel no connection.

Agreeing to help out in holidays I don’t personally observe was my first mistake.  Apart from Christmas I don’t observe Yule and this internet event focused on this.  The group had been quiet for a while, and I started to see how quiet it was.  Except for me no one monitored the group.  I couldn’t get a hold of anyone else nor the resources set aside for this group.  I had no choice but to start this event from scratch.  Luckily some notes were left and some people helped me with research.  Without them I couldn’t have managed what I did.

I haven’t been so lucky with my family.  I thought if I volunteered to help with decorating the Christmas tree, one which was creatively speaking a Herculean task for my parents, I contribute meaningfully.  Instead I was handed a mess of resentments over a color scheme my mother didn’t like, her frustration with a design she saw somewhere on YouTube that wasn’t working for her, all heaped into one emotional, passive aggressive mess.  It was another lesson in when to be helpful.

I showed signs of feeling taken for granted.  I received complaints about arranging an event because it wasn’t the way such-and-such person would have run it, I had to dig from my own time and resources at the last minute, and my mother obstructed any creative endeavor with the tree (she even fought with me about ribbon width!)  I felt cheated, used, unappreciated, the whole gambit of resentful emotions.  When discussing with my friends how drained I felt one question kept popping up: why am I doing this?  I believed I gave reasons at the time, but in retrospect I gave excuses.  It was to the tune of “my obligation” or “giving back” or some other sense of duty.  That changed overnight.

I had my umpteenth struggle with my mother about how to decorate the tree last night.  I’m the type of person who, when planning, tries to be as clear and precise as possible so that there’s no confusion.  When gathering the additional materials for the tree I explained what I designed and what I would need.  Well after these materials were purchased and ready to be made my mother decided to drop a bomb on me.  She had her own plans for those materials, plans which she never communicated, and rendered anything I wanted to do useless.  I stared at her for a moment and reminded her I had gone over this with her.  She dismissed my reminder.  I grew so frustrated at this point I was speechless.  I saw all my time and effort dissolve in that one moment and couldn’t think of any way to salvage it.  I stared at her and saw the project as hopeless.  I realized then I was doing this for no reason, not even out of kindness.

“I’m through,” I whimpered, “I’m through with your childish games.  I’m too grown up for this.”  I walked away and left her to her own devices.  She didn’t want my help, anyway.

I’ve had time to think about my projects up to this point and it all needed one question answered: why was I doing this?  I’ve evaluated the time, effort, and other resources I’ve put into my projects up to this point.  I realized my friends were right in that I became too busy and spread myself thin.  I’ve had all the wrong projects on the back burner so I could be “charitable”, when in reality I set myself up for failure.  I was contradicting my own message about the pitfalls of this act.  My endeavor resulted in exhaustion.  Luckily since I can identify the issue I can solve it.

On my part I can identify which projects I feel are best for me.  I can also take advantage of the holiday season to rest and work on those.  Because of that I won’t blog as much for the next couple of weeks.  This will remove any distractions for myself to get things done which should have been out the door months ago.

I’ve learned this holiday season that it’s time to walk away from some commitments when the costs outweigh the benefits.  When I put forth more effort than I get back it means I have to muster up more energy for other work, energy or resources I may lack.  I’ve also learned to walk away from commitments when I’m truly doing it to placate my ego.  In the end the result is the same.  I have less than what I intended to gain.


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Busy versus Sedulity

I was poking around on Pinterest lately because I needed a break from social networking sites and I saw this picture. I know it’s not terribly profound, but the thoughts that ensued caused me to pause. It’s undeniable in the United States we glorify busyness. If one doesn’t appear to be actively engaged in something people assume the individual is lazy, slothful, or uncaring of their work. Meanwhile the person who is always rushing about and on their feet is presumed to be skillful, devoted, and professional. It’s the sad remnants of the Protestant work ethic taken to a very extreme. However, I’m not satisfied with that conclusion. Why does the United States culture glorify busyness? How did we interpret “busyness” to mean “hard worker”?

I think that with the extremist notion of the Protestant work ethic we’ve misconstrued busyness as industrious. We forgo the connotation of the two words and look solely at the denotation. We’ve learned to observe the shallow means of something done rather than something habitually done. Part of the observation comes from how our culture’s developed. We’ve developed into a culture that demands instant gratification. I’m not sure if there is a steadfast solution to changing this mindset on a large scale, but I do know it can be changed on a personal scale.

The drawback of instant gratification isn’t just a decline in quality of things, but also an appreciation for things, from my experience. If one expects everything to happen on the double there’s no appreciation for how it happened. A great example of this is small children with treats. A small child doesn’t care how the treat was made, who made it, what costs and efforts occur; the child wants the treat and that’s all. However, when the small child is made aware of how to attain the treat—usually when they’re old enough to understand—then there are grounds for appreciation. Sometimes this means teaching the child to make the treats, having them pay for the treats, and so forth. When there’s awareness of the effort it takes to acquire something, there’s more appreciation for it than without the awareness.

It is with awareness where I draw the line between busyness and sedulity. When one is sedulous the person is more thorough, more aware, more thoughtful of their work. They work hard not for the sake of producing something, but to produce something meaningful. A sedulous person understands hard work and appreciates others’ hard work. A sedulous person aims to do their best. It’s not to say one can’t be busy and sedulous, mindful, or that that busyness must equate to thoughtlessness and apathy. I’ve witnessed people who are busy and sedulous as often as the opposite. It takes awareness to discern when one is doing what.

In our self-awareness we can discover our limitations and take action. A great example of this is why my blog became relatively inactive. I managed to pile several projects on my plate with what seemingly yielded little results. I also felt very discouraged with the Neo-Pagan and other communities. I recognized my burn-out when I realized I was just writing things for the sake of posting. I wasn’t working purposefully. I was burnt out.

I spent a bit of time meditating over how to handle my burn out. I finally decided to back away from all my projects and affairs save one project and what was essential to conduct business. I threw a lot of energy and planning into that project. I set up the social network accounts, set up graphics after a few failed attempts to find the appropriate artists and back-up planning, focused on more affirming and inspiring messages to keep my stamina, and set up the blog for the project as it neared completion time.

Focusing on what little I did resulted in more mindfulness of my present tasks and sense of productivity. At first it felt as if I’d done little to nothing, but as I neared my deadline I saw everything come together. It was then I realized how productive I had been and how fruitful my efforts had become. The experience taught me that sometimes I needed to shift to one focus. That is how I found my sense of sedulity. I decided to write down my process so I could return to this sense if I lost it again. Here is what I did:

Plan out a specific project. Take a project and list the main goal and its deadline if possible. Then list the steps needed to attain that goal. List every goal in its fullest detail. This includes how much time it will take to complete, the resources needed, any possible people / places /things that will contribute to that vision. Don’t leave out anything, even if it seems minute; this can be edited after you examine it.

Look at possible “down time” in each step. Even though this time will factor into the project it will serve in sorting out the time schedule. Where there’s nothing going on during one stage of the project it may be the opportunity to work on a different part of the stage. It also provides a rest period as needed.

Reward yourself for completing a stage. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward like a night on the town (save big rewards like that for when the entire project’s completed), but you should reward yourself as an incentive to keep going and as a way to relax.

Remove distractions. For many, myself included, it means not spending time on social networking sites. In fact I used certain sites as a reward for meeting certain goals.

Create an inspiring and motivating environment. Look at where the task is performed. Is there anything to keep you going? If you remove any distractions does it feel possible to tackle the task? Sometimes a progress chart of sorts will motivate, sometimes one of those cheesy motivational posters help folks, or even the focus on the reward for yourself will work.

-Celebrate the completion of a goal. When the goal is finally completed, give yourself a treat. If you treated yourself for completing certain tasks along the way make sure the treat at the end is larger.

I found that with a method to keep on task I wasn’t just busying myself. With a method to reaching a goal and breaking it up into tasks I was more aware of what I was doing. I was in more control of my mind and found more of my equilibrium.