In looking up images online to accompany this post, I realized that the saying “It’s not my job,” can easily take on a hands-off, highly snarky attitude. As in, “Hey, not my problem!” But that’s not my intention here.
Lately I’ve been working on the practice of not over care-taking. What I mean by “Not my job,” is that it’s not my job to over care-take for people, thinking I know what’s best for them. What I’m working on is taking people at their word, regardless of whether or not I think they know or mean what they’re saying. So, for instance, if someone says they can help me with something, it’s not my job to second guess them, based on what I think their abilities are. Let me try to explain, using a recent experience I had.
Last weekend I was in charge of our fifth annual community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center, where we sold off the donations we had collected over the last two months, from dozens of folks. After hearing about how someone, who was a bit older, had wrenched their back helping on the prep day before the yard sale, a sangha member approached me and suggested that perhaps for next year’s sale we find younger people to help out more. With there being so much lifting and heavy items to move around, he prompted, it might be a better fit for more able-bodied volunteers. He then went on to say how he knew someone from a couple of years ago that had helped with the yard sale, who had also gotten injured by over-working themselves, someone who was also a little bit older in age. I hesitated a bit in my response, wanting to craft my words in both a respectful and honest way. I wound up saying something like, “Well, I guess I would hope that in the future people wouldn’t sign up to volunteer for roles that they aren’t well suited for.” It was difficult for me to respond in this fashion, as I was concerned that it would be taken the wrong way, and I would appear uncaring and callous. But, as I am working on this whole over care-taking business, I felt it was an important step for me to take. If someone, regardless of age, offers to help during the yard sale, it’s not my job to question their abilities. It’s not like I was forcing people into it, “Help with the yard sale, or else!” While of course I don’t like hearing that someone over-worked themselves, it’s also not up to me to determine someone’s physical capacity by turning down their self-propelled offer to help.
In my experience, both personally and in witnessing others, this happens a lot. In our want to be helpful, or be seen as helpful, or whatever the case may be, we overextend ourselves. Many of us do not know how to take good care of ourselves and be honest, with ourselves, about what our limitations are. And if we do turn down something based on our own needs, we offer excuses about why we can’t be involved, rather than taking ownership and simply stating, “Unfortunately, I am unable to help with that.”
What I’m getting at here is that it’s not my job to read in between the lines, at least not in certain cases. I’m working on taking people at their word and then letting the outcome go, as opposed to taking personal responsibility for people’s experiences, which I have a strong tendency to do. I see that my work around this topic has roots in my own past tendencies to say “yes” when I really wanted to say “no.” So I’ve also been working on truly meaning what I say and doing what I need to do, for the sake of my own well-being. It may sound like common sense, but I’m learning that only I can know what I’m capable of. It’s not up to anyone else to take care of me, it’s up to me to take care of myself. If I wind up doing something that’s not good for me to do, I have only myself to blame.
Mindfulness is not a theory or ideology. It’s nothing you can really learn about through reading or studying. To understand mindfulness, one must practice it. Mindfulness is an ever-deepening unfolding process of self-evaluation, which only makes sense in the context of integrating it into our everyday life, and seeing what bears fruit and what doesn’t from our own experience.
There is no way to mindfulness, mindfulness is the way.