I should post again. Damnit, I started this blog almost two weeks ago, and there's still only one post! Who the hell do I think I am, starting a blog and not writing? I should write about this, I should write about that; something, anything from this pile of sticky notes accumulating on my desk. The "I should write about this" was especially big on this one particular idea that's been brewing in my brain—I even snapped the photos of the corresponding stickies. But...no writing.
SHOULD. One Buddhist teacher I know uses the phrase "shoulding all over yourself." I should start a blog, I should write more, I should exercise more, meditate more, eat better, be a kinder person, work harder, make more money, organize my photos, organize my closet, call my parents more often, get the car washed, mop the floors, smile more, think more positive thoughts—the layers of should range from everything in our external world to our deepest layers of our internal world.
Life Choice Shoulds. We—particularly the perfectionistic we, the we driven toward self improvement or world improvement, the we who want a better life than our parents had—we spend a lot of time feeling bad about ourselves, feeling guilty for what we're not doing, beating ourselves up for not achieving some idea of What Life Should Look Like. We think we should have a certain kind of house, a certain kind of car, achive a certain level of income, attain a certain relationship status and bear a certain number of children. This weight becomes particularly oppressive on major birthdays, sending millions of people into minor depressions, on major shopping sprees, and on expensive birthday-related drinking binges. A great number of divorced people I know report "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, even though I knew in the back of my mind it wasn't what I really wanted." We base many of our major life choices on some idea of What Life Is Supposed To Be—ideas from TV, ideas from books, ideas from our families. What if we tuned in to what we truly knew, instead of thought, and lived our lives from that place?
Daily Life Shoulds. How we live our lives on a daily basis can be driven by the ever-present Should—I put this in the category of time and life management. The cleaning, the eating, the exercising, the working, the reading, the paying of bills, the walking the dog, all that stuff we put off by plopping ourselves in front of the TV, eating cake, having a drink, or staring off into space. Most people I know I have some awareness of what they think they Should be doing with their time, which doesn't usually correlate to how they are actually spending their time. What if we truly believed that what we are doing at any given moment is exactly what we are supposed to be doing?
Little Projects of the Mind. When one gets to the level of exploring one's own consciousness, it's apparent that Should is everywhere in the mind. In meditation, I've often thought, "I Should be experiencing bliss right now, because I've experienced it before! I Shouldn't be fixated on what I should have said when that idiot said that crappy thing to me!" Any kind of personal path of development is littered with a path of Should: why can't I be like Deepak Chopra/Eckhart Tolle/Jack Kornfield/Bryon Katie, or hell, even Oprah or Tony Robbins. After all, they say it's possible. If I do what they say I will become rich/famous/exceedingly kind/blissed out/have so perfect of a life that I might as well leave the planet because there will be no problems that I have to solve so what's the freaking point?! What if we could drop judgement of ourselves for not having the experience our mind thinks we Should be having?
True Shoulds? After I wrote the above sticky note, I thought a lot about what in the moment of writing I termed "true shoulds: love, joy, and gratitude." It works as a orientation, but is much harder as a practice for us unenlightened beings. If you told me I Should be experiencing love when I am really pissed off at someone, I might want to punch you, or at least roll my eyes in exasperation. If you told me I Should feel gratitude when I am filing my taxes (which as a self-employed individual means paying lots of money) —well, I can eventually get there, after considering that I do not live in the Congo, and have paved roads, a public education system, and an elected president. If you told me I Should be joyful to be alive while waiting for my number to be called at the DMV or while on jury duty, well, I might, just might, be able to detach enough from my thoughts so I could observe the fascinating cross-section of people I'm so rarely presented with and wonder about their lives. I probably wouldn't be sitting there in a blissful meditation (and I have tried!). Perhaps the Shoulds of Truth have as many layers as the Shoulds of Delusion.
Should is all in the head. As far as I can tell, once you've dropped down into your heart, your gut, the core of your being, the only Should is Being Alive, and when you really look at it, there is no Should in wholeness. The paradox, of course, is that feeling like you Should live from your heart is an idea in your head.
And that I might not have written this post had I not let that other post bounce around in my head for more than a week before I sat myself down to write, and quickly realized I had to write about not what my mind had decided I Should write about, but whatever showed up. After all, I'm following my own rules here, and they're pretty lax. That other post will find a way to artciulate itself eventually.
Goodbye Should, hello Blog Post With Funky Drawing! It was fun making you.