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Enough for who?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 by Marianne Elliott

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Remember a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling all discombobulated?

The question that was discombobulating me was:

Is this enough?

It’s a slippery question, isn’t it? How will I know if it’s enough? Enough of what? Enough for who?

In my yoga and meditation practice all that is ever required is to show up, to be willing to actually bring my awareness to what is here right now, to pay attention, to wake up. Enough doesn’t even come into it. Or perhaps enough is exactly what comes into it, in the sense that whatever I show up with is always exactly enough.

Which is one of the reasons why my yoga and meditation practices are such an oasis of space, they give me space from the relentlessness of the quest for enoughness.

But ‘Is this enough?’ is, as I started off saying, a slippery little fish of a question and sometimes it slips right in and hooks itself into my ego.

And this is the question I found myself face to face with in those days of discombobulation.

All I’m doing with my life: Is it enough?

I decided that this very feeling of ‘not enough’-ness was in itself what I needed to make space for. So I walked with it, and sat with it, and wrote with it and most of all, I got really curious with it and asked it exactly what it was all about.

And to my surprise it turned out to be something quite different from what I thought it might be.

I suspected it of being an old, familiar sense of not doing enough to help others, of my work not adding up to enough people served, not enough suffering reduced.

I suspected that this was all about not being enough, not doing enough, to earn my place on the planet.

But when I actually asked some friendly questions I discovered that what I was feeling was that I wasn’t getting enough of what I need. My work, my relationships, my lifestyle, my service – the problem wasn’t that they didn’t add up to enough ‘out there’ for other people.

The problem was that they were not nourishing enough for me.

I mean, I love my work. I love teaching my online yoga courses. I love working on all manner of human rights issues. I love writing my book. But 95% of this work happens alone, at my kitchen table. And while I’m at least half introvert, I’m also about half extrovert and I take in nourishment from working face to face with others, from collaborating, from firing up a room. I get my mojo from walking on the beach, from dancing up a storm, from playing with kids. I fill my creative well by traveling.

It didn’t matter that everything I am doing added up to a perfect alignment with my values in terms of outcome, what mattered was that the mix lacked my own particular recipe for being joyfully abundantly nourished.

Even noticing this, my friends, was a revolution.

If you haven’t known me very long then you may not yet realise that I have spent most of my 38 years throwing myself heart, body and soul into work that I hope will serve others. How many people I can serve? How much suffering I can ease? These have been my measure of enoughness.

What nourishes me? What tops up my personal energy stores? Those were not questions I would have thought to even ask myself five years ago.

Five years ago I thought that all that mattered was that I was doing good. If I was serving others, I was getting it right. Then somewhere along the line (somewhere near June 2007) I started to realise that taking care of myself was part of being of service in the world.

And I don’t mean: Put on your own oxygen mask before you help others

Today I was talking to the lovely and wise Tara Mohr about why the oxygen mask rule (i.e. you have to look after yourself first, before you help others) wasn’t quite true to what we had both experienced in our lives. What we agreed was that there is something wrong with the sequential element (first this, then that) built into this adage.

Because taking care of ourselves is part of taking care of others.

Giving generously to others is part of giving generously to ourselves.

We don’t do one first and then, when we’ve perfected it, move onto the other. Doing one allows us to open up to the other, and vice versa. We deepen into both at once.

Naturally, we each enter into this process of opening our hearts and deepening our compassion through different doors. Our karma, our personality and our family and culture all play a role in deciding whether we are first inclined to focus externally (on serving others, as I was) or internally (on developing and healing ourselves).

And as Tara so beautiful expressed it, sometimes helping another is the perfect door for us to enter into deeper compassion for ourselves.

But no matter which door we enter in through, there comes a moment in the experience of opening our hearts when we suddenly know, we feel with all our being, that there can be no distinction between the two.

I’m one of the ones who entered in through the gate of external service and I’m still in the process of  fully embracing the truth that caring for myself, taking responsibility for my own nourishment and offering myself unconditional compassion are all part of the same process as serving others.

So when I realised that my sense of not-enoughness was actually a sense that I was not getting enough of the nourishment and renewal I need it was with great joy that I embraced the opportunity to make some changes. So here are some of those changes:

taking more walks on the beach

teaching more face-to-face workshops

booking more speaking gigs (they light me up like a fricken christmas tree, no lie)

giving myself more space to create

more working with others, more collaborations

more time to play with children (have i mentioned how much i love kids? l.o.v.e ’em)

much more dancing

more slow travel (full immersion, no rushing, plenty of time to soak it all in)

All those ‘mores’ means there will have to be some ‘lesses’ too – and I’m still in the process of working out what I’ll be doing less of to make space for what I know I need and want to do more of. If you don’t see a list of what I’ll be doing less of in the coming weeks and months, perhaps you’d be so kind as to gently remind me that I have promised myself the space to do more of what brings me alive?

How about you? What do you need more of to be truely nourished? What might you need to do less of to make space for that?


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32 Responses to "Enough for who?"

  1. Bobbi French says:

    I love this post. In my former life as a psychiatrist working with teens and their families one of my favourite phrases for parents was “put your own oxygen mask on first”. How could they help their kids when they weren’t looking after themselves? This phrase also fueled my decision to ultimately leave this work as I wasn’t breathing enough for myself.

    Anyway, I like your list a lot. I wish you well in this reflection and any action that comes from it. Thanks for your lovely thoughts and words…


  2. amy says:

    thank you for sharing this… a lovely reminder that i need to act on the ‘lesses’ to make room for the wonderful ‘mores’ on my own list. take care.

  3. Effy says:

    I really needed to let go of cable and other distractions, and so, I did. 🙂 The order went in today and the disconnect date is winter solstice. A gift for me. 🙂

    Loved you list, and the way you described your process. I often find myself doing a lot of avoiding before I actually sit with/walk with/write with the feeling. This was a good reminder for me that I really can just skip the avoiding part. 🙂

  4. rebecca says:

    You are so right. I wish I could live by this idea more often, but too many times I get pulled back away from the things that would nourish me by guilt, by that “not enoughness”. While I do feel like it is absolutely a priority to put our best selves out into the world (and how can we be our best when we feel depleted?) its so easy to just dig in deeper to the “tasks” and put off the healing happiness we do truly deserve. How do you deal with that guilt, how do you make room in your mind for the good stuff?

    From where I sit you do more for others than anyone could ever expect or ask of you, and you inspire me to do more too, so I do hope you make it more a part of your life to take care of you too. 🙂

  5. Christiane says:

    Well, as I said in my previous comment, I sincerely think we should talk or Email some time soon. I’m in peace research, working on something I call “discursive conflict resolution”, which basically aims at working out language patterns and narratives that hinder conflict resolution and then changing those. This has nothing much to do with your post, which I nonetheless love and agree with :-). I guess I just wanted to say if you ever travel to Hamburg, Germany, please let me know.

  6. Jo says:

    The oxygen mask thing has always felt inaccurate to me. Love your insight and your take on this.

  7. Yogi Mat says:

    I feel that “Making space” is a bit of a loaded gun. Making space assumes a lot: “there is not enough space”. Then there is the making – a clearing / conditioned response or trying to still / be at peace of some kind (meditating through gritted teeth if you will – pulling ourselves apart). If we could work outside the appearance of things we find that there is actually much more space in the universe than we might think – and this space is in the most unlikely places. Lets look VERY VERY CLOSELY (beyond appearance). When a yoga teacher touches a student, they do not actually touch each other. They just get so close to transfer (electric and magnetic) energy and the atoms in each body experiences those forces. It is these VERY STRONG sub-atomic forces that repel – there is no “touching” as such – and it is the FORCES that prevent the teacher and the student from passing right through each other !! This theory has since been supported in modern science (Quantum Physics) and philosophical discourse (Deconstruction) / Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination) / Buddhist atomism and Mereological Nihlism – def. worth a look.

  8. Carol says:

    I hear you loud and clear! Because of some personal issues that I’ve been dealing with lately, I found that mentally I had become exhausted, which then led a physical exhaustion resulting in the majority of my annual leave from work spent sleeping. Consequently, relationships & friendships were affected and not being nourished in the way that they should be.

    Your post pinpoints exactly what the problem was for me. Thank you so much for articulating how I’ve been feeling.


  9. Alexis Grant says:

    Great, great post. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in doing what we’re supposed to do that we forget to ask whether we’re fulfilled by it! I know I don’t feel happy unless I get into the woods every few weekends or so, even for just a quick jog. I need the quiet to clear my head. Without that, I’m not as good at enjoying the other parts of my life. Even though I know this, I need reminders from people like you every once in a while to stay on track!

  10. This is so much what I need today. Thank you, Marianne. Much more dancing, indeed.

  11. Emily Perry says:

    yes and yes! i am craving more face to face time too, and more nourishment for me (when mama is happy all are happy- right?) xo
    thanks for the great reminder.

  12. akhila says:

    Absolutely love this post… I think I’m similar- I tend to focus, to exclusion, on how I can serve others, make a difference, reduce human pain and suffering… that’s my life’s work, my job, my volunteer work, my free time, and it takes up my mind. Often though I forget to take care of myself, look at what nourishes me… and like you said, this is all part of the same process to effectively serving others.

  13. Roxanne says:

    I loved the distinction between doing enough externally and finding ways to nourish our souls to the point of joy. Seeing you actively hunt for nourishment is inspiring me to do the same. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s line in “Wild Geese”: let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. This post inspired me to do just that. Thank you, Marianne.

  14. maggie doyne says:

    great follow up to read after our convo last night. thank you* xo

  15. Carol Gallo says:

    I enjoyed that. Can totally relate, but you put into words a lot of things that have kind of just been floating around in my head conceptually. So thanks for this post. …And I definitely need to make more time for my art. 🙂

  16. jane says:

    consider yourself an emmisary from Kali today Marianne – this is so timely it made my eyes leak – thank you

  17. Abbie says:

    Love it 🙂

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. I can relate. I realized earlier this year that I am missing the face-to-face thing, so it was timely that my theme for October and November was connection. (I’m doing my own Happiness Project.) And I like the idea of writing out what I need to feel nourished as mores and lesses.

  19. cath says:

    oh. so. frikken. true.

  20. Bethany says:

    Marianne – You write beautifully about this difficult topic.. Thanks! I have entered a time in my life that is now focused on myself as well, and it’s not easy to do after years of giving through work in Africa… Some days I think it would just be easier to go back to work full time to distract myself from the tough job of nurturing me… But you remind me that finding a balance brings true well-being… I hope you find ways to put more of those things on your list into your life again!!


  21. Sara says:

    Your write so perfectly about these things! I can relate. I know it’s not the same thing, but my boyfriend is suffering from depression and I need to be there for him, be strong for the two of us at the moment. However, I have realised that in order to do that, to be there looking after him, I need to look after ME too. Making sure I’m physically and mentally healthy (healthy food and yoga) and also have a life, spend time doing things I love, with people I care about, indulging my passions. So it’s sort of a simultaenous process of putting on my oxygen mask and his, at the same time.

  22. Mira says:

    So insightful. Thank you. I’m in the first few months of trying to uncover what I’m missing in life to be more fulfilled. It’s been quite a fascinating process, although I’m having a hard time allowing myself to eliminate those things that aren’t serving me as much out of guilt, habit, etc. If you discover some tricks to make this process easier, please write about it!

  23. alisha says:

    Great post! As a humanitarian-minded 1/2 introvert, 1/2 extrovert I definitely relate. I actually just wrote two lists last night similar to your lists: what I do and what I don’t do. It was a good reminder that I can’t do everything and that I’m intentionally cutting down on some activities or ways of thinking in order to let other parts bloom. Good luck!

  24. Alex says:

    we have SUCH similar lists! but that is why we are sisters at heart, no? missing you so ~

  25. Swirly says:

    These questions and issues have been on my mind quite a bit lately, especially while I’ve been sick. With such low energy – and therefore the ability to only get the bare minimum of tasks done each day – I have tried to use this time to look closely at my life, and at what I can learn from these days of un-wellness. I still don’t have too many specific answers, but they are inching closer…I can feel them. Your post is exactly what I needed to read today.

  26. Alys says:

    Thanks Marianne for sharing! I happened upon a very striking and beautiful poem today and throught of you and this post.

    It’s by a poet called Nirmala.

    my longing was never deep enough
    to touch this empty well

    my effort was never great enough
    to move this unmovable mountain

    my understanding was never broad enough
    to contain this silent truth

    my dreaming was never real enough
    to shape this formless presence

    nothing is always enough
    when nothing is needed

  27. […] Last week I promised myself more space in 2011 for the things that bring me alive. I knew at the time that this was going to require me to think about what I was ready to let go of. All those ‘mores’ means there will have to be some ‘lesses’ too – and I’m still in the process of working out what I’ll be doing less of to make space for what I know I need and want to do more of. […]

  28. Brigitte says:

    Somehow I missed this post. I’m glad that was only temporary.

    It’s the best I’ve read all year.

  29. […] what I preached. I was going to have to give myself what I needed, which was more space. And I knew that to find space I was going to have to let some things go. I knew that I was going to have to say no to something, and since everything in my life is fabulous […]

  30. […] Enough for who? ~ Nov 2010, in which I discovered I’d been asking the wrong question […]

  31. Helen Gennari says:

    Though I am considerably older than you, Marianne, I find myself in a similar place of dealing with “Is this enough” and so appreciate your question “for who?” I retired at the end of 2009 (Social Worker / Therapist / Advocate) but find myself really struggling with finding a balance between my on-going work for others AND taking time apart, time to write, time to “dance and sing”. You have given me much on which to reflect. I wish you the best.

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