Friday, May 14, 2010

Unplanning

There's a concept that parents talk about a lot nowadays called "Executive Function." As adults, we use executive function to perform such activities as planning, organizing, strategizing and paying attention to and remembering details. Developing these skills in childhood is critical for future successful functioning in adulthood. Sorry-that sounds like a line from my Intro to Psychology text book.

Before I continue any further with this post, I want to make clear that I am a fan of executive function. I say YES to executive function! HOORAY for executive function! On a personal level, some of the executive function features I possess are the ability to multi-task, analyze my performance, read, write, and keep track of time. I am grateful that I have these skills and abilities. Without them, I would likely not be able to own my own home or business. I would struggle to manage my finances. Organizing my child's schedule would be difficult.

Everyday, I either espouse or listen to the idea that "planning" is counter-productive. Basically, I promote a mindset of not planning. The idea-- think like a beginner, like someone who doesn't know the answer or what's coming next-- and life will be more interesting, more full, more present. Granted, this is in the context of Yoga practice, but it begs the question, "How does one find balance between planning and open-mindedness in everyday life?"

I recognize my inability to stay in open-mindedness at some point every time I practice Yoga. My mind wanders. Then Kristen says, "Don't be sad" or Gary says, "Try not to anticipate" or Meghan says, "Breathe." I come back to being open---for a moment.

Being without a plan when I am not practicing or teaching Yoga is exponentially more challenging. I have always been someone who makes things happen-- plane tickets four months ahead of time, oil changes ten miles before I need them, birthday parties, cookie parties, block watch meetings. Planning has worked for me professionally. It has worked financially. For the most part, it has worked socially.

For years (maybe all of my years), I have unsuccessfully attempted to also plan emotionally. In crisis, in joy, in anger, in fear, I've attempted to anticipate my next move. That seemed efficient, like good management. I think sometimes it was conscious, but mostly unconscious, just another way that I "took care of business."

Now as I unfurl (see "Maybe Gene Simmons was onto something" post), I'm realizing that managing emotions is just the opposite of efficient. When I find myself planning emotionally, I feel tired, depleted, off-balance. The burden of carrying the unknown is cumbersome and unwieldy. Surprisingly, when I can sit (and occasionally stay) in the unfamiliar, sometimes scary territory of not knowing what is next, there is no baggage. Oh my god, how have I not seen this? The elusive balance between planning and open-mindedness in everyday life can be found only when we stop trying to find it.

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