I had a ghost writing client some years back who was a highly successful motivational speaker. The subject of her book was attacking anxiety, an important topic, but it was difficult to work with her since she had no idea how to stop talking, take a breather, and think about things. She simply couldn’t take her own advice. “We teach what we need to learn,” people often say, but I don’t always go along with that sentiment. As a writing teacher, I learn a great deal from my students all the time and I love that, but if I don’t know what I’m talking about, if I don’t understand what I’m teaching and do my own writing, I don’t think I have the right to teach it to anyone else.

This client of mine was so amped up, it was all she could do to sit still for the two hours a week that we worked together. It was no surprise that her book didn’t do very well. I just couldn’t get her to take a pause and dig deep enough to express the things she wanted to say. She was breathless one day, flying around her Malibu estate in a tornado of wild energy when she asked me, “What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years? What do you want to do with your life?”

I thought for a moment and realized that I was already doing it. I was in a good place in my career, I loved what I did for a living, I had a lovely home, I was healthy and I had great friends. But one thing was still eluding me. “Peace,” I told her. “That’s my goal. I want inner peace. ”

“Is that all?” she asked, clearly disappointed with my answer.

As we move into our eighth month of forced quarantine and social distancing, a number of my friends are voicing their frustrations about not doing enough. “I promised myself I would use this time to do everything I’ve been putting off, but I can’t seem to do it,” they tell me. “I haven’t written that book or played music or cleaned out the junk drawers. Sometimes all I can do is just sit here, stare into space and feel guilty.”

I don’t see anything wrong with the first two­ – sitting there and staring into space. It’s a good thing to take a pause and regroup. But the feeling guilty part only creates shame and paralysis. Why are we so mean to ourselves? Whey do we treat others with love and have so little compassion for ourselves?

A popular Indian guru once said, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” What’s wrong with going quiet and being still? Why is that considered a waste of time?

When I feel guilty about relaxing, reading a book, watching TV or staring at the walls, I think about Buddhist monks who consider it worthwhile to sit in a cave every day, meditate and send loving energy out into the world? I’m not suggesting you find a cave and sit there for the rest of your life. We are in this world and there are things here that require our participation like families, jobs and expressing our political views when we think it’s necessary. But a little less rushing around and a little more contemplation can make this time feel like a gift rather than a curse. I make it a point to take a pause, a time out to breathe and get clear. Then, if something arises that beckons me and feels worth my time and energy, I don’t feel frenetic. I feel refreshed, on point, and ready to do what I feel moved to do.

Do you feel guilty about what you’re not doing? What do you want for yourself and how do you think you can create it in a present and compassionate way?

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