When I think about my everyday, automatic operating instructions, things like being on time and staying late (I’m my own taskmaster), working hard (without taking breaks), and completing tasks effectively (my best) and efficiently (so there’s time to do more) come to mind.
And, as I wonder where along the way I acquired these instructions, I realize they were taught to me, and that I learned them very well. The choice was obvious. Even as a kid, the duality of working hard versus hardly working was firmly sown into every fiber of my body and mind.
Through hard work, I learned what a work ethic was—it was a family value, a societal one too. And as I developed one, my good, hard work made me valuable. Or so I thought.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that a good, strong work ethic gets things done. Hard work, done well, feels and does good, especially when it’s done with heart, not just body and brain.
The problem for me was that there was always more work to be done. The instant I reported the completion of one task, hoping to be noticed, maybe even valued, a few others were just added to the list.
And so it went on, with hard work and high achievement becoming my own values, daily operating instructions, along with frugality (never waste money or time, especially on myself), humility (the kind that stops your own little light from shining), and selflessness (serving the self was sinful; serving others was sweet sacrifice).
I must have been valued because I’d certainly earned it through hard work. And I spent a good many years seeking approval from others, even valuing myself based on how hard I’d worked, how much I’d achieved, despite how little I rested or played.
When I was in my early teens, my love mum noticed this about me. She asked me about my values, not my big beliefs, but what my everyday values were, how I operated my life on a daily basis.
I think she could tell that a lot of serious work and little silly play was squelching my spirit. And she knew something that my old-fashioned, hard-working folks didn’t, that with work must come rest, and that with seriousness must come silliness. An overworked body and brain weakens the spirit.
She knew that a good balance of everyday values brings balance and value to a good life, every day.
What do you say about all work and no play?
Initially, I had a lot of resistance to balancing work with rest, and seriousness with silliness. She was gentle, allowing me to observe. She just showed me what rest and playfulness did for her spirit, that it softened and opened it up to pleasure, laughter, peace, creativity, purpose, joy, and love, which she shared with all, a gift both for and from the self. Everyone wins!
Soon she asked me questions like, “What makes your heart smile?” and “What makes your spirit shine?” I’m sure she could see that my heart was heavy, and I wasn’t even sure I had a spirit, whatever it might have been. She taught me how to say, “Wow!” and mean it.
I learned that my spirit was simply the beautiful, brilliant me that shone from within and out to the world, minus all the outside crap like seeking approval and being who others expected me to be, just being my small self. She was a master and I was her student. She was a spiritual teacher simply disguised as a best friend’s mum. Lucky me!
My big self, okay maybe even my spirit, offered me operating instructions other than the ones I’d learned growing up. Practicing things like rest and play freed my spirit and somehow fueled my body and brain. Opening up to curiosity and creativity brought me to awe. And awe is awe-and-then-some!
Some of my big self operating instructions include practice in being more accepting, compassionate, understanding, and kind. My big self has shown me how to soften and open up to uncertainty, tenderness, vulnerability, trust, and love. I learned happy humor, to laugh at myself, others, and life without being mean. My big self operates right alongside my small self now, balancing life, bettering it for all.
It’s almost unbelievable how much my life has changed for the better since I began following these other operating instructions, how much I’ve changed. I’ve transformed my life and myself simply by balancing my small and big self everyday operating instructions.
I’m still on time, I still work hard, and I still accomplish much. These are good things to do in my life. They’re helpful and rewarding. But I also take my sweet time, rest up and play hard, and do and think a whole lot of sweet nothings in between it all. I practice maintaining this balance because it makes life better, it brings out the best in me.
From time to time, sometimes at a moment’s notice, I review my everyday values, how I operate my life on a daily basis. I simply list them. I try not to judge them, and just try to understand them. Then I ask my big and small selves the questions my mentor mum asked me, and many more.
Who or what makes you smile? What brings you a sense of purpose? What delights you? How can you be of service? What helps us all? What satisfies your soul? What brings us all peace? What brings about happy laughter? Who or what inspires you? How can you be an inspiration? How can you express yourself creatively? Who opens up your heart, and how? How can you trust in vulnerability? How can you cultivate love?
What are your everyday operating instructions in life? Does your spirit have more to offer you? Just dig down deep and ask. The answers are right here, right now. And they’re awe-and-then-some!
Photo courtesy of EA via FreeDigitalPhotos.net