We are all under pressure.
At work. At home. From what others expect of us and what we ourselves think we should do. Or be or not be.
That pressure is often unhealthy. It keeps us from what is important and wears us out. With the risk that we end up in a burnout or – even worse – not end up in a burn-out, and instead stagger on, exhausted and unfulfilled.
Of course: responsibilities are part of life. And we do not get to choose what difficulties life brings us. But that does not alter the fact that desire rather than pressure should be at the heart of our life.
Desire – or zest for life, wanting something, needs, wishes, call them what you want – fan the fire within us. They give direction and energy, meaning and joy, determination and courage. And there is much to long for: freedom, inner peace, connection, intimacy, recognition, wisdom, growth. Or the desire to do good, create something of value or improve the world. Desire can be intense or subtle, but whatever it’s shape, it is one of our tasks as human beings to bring our desires into the world. To notice and nurture them, to create the right conditions within ourselves and the world around us, and to take appropriate action at the right time.
Which doesn’t always happen. Sometimes we want something that isn’t available, for which the time isn’t right. Then our will gets blocked and we feel frustrated. And sometimes we lose touch with our desire because we succumb to pressure. For example, when we tolerate things that cost us energy. Things that people do, or don’t do, or a situation that bothers us. Think of criticism, arrogance, sloppiness, discrimination, and hurtful words. Instead of tackling these things, making them stop, we allow them to persist. Usually because we think we don’t have the right to challenge the other person, because we are afraid of the consequences or because we believe there is no point in even trying. A second way we are pressured is when we carry someone else’s burden. That’s fine for a bit– someone is sick and we take over their tasks for a while – but not if it takes too long and the responsibility for the burden lies with the other person. Sometimes this concerns tangible tasks at home or at the office. But more often it is about fulfilling the hidden expectations of others or meeting their needs, at the expense of ourselves. The third way we come under pressure is when we hide important parts of ourselves. An opinion, a quality, a desire, feelings, an aspect of our identity, our sexual preference. Not because this is good for us – on the contrary – but because it bothers others. They reject those parts, ignore them, or try to halt them through physical and verbal violence. No wonder we protect those parts by withdrawing them, even if it means we don’t flourish.
Tolerating things costs us energy. As does carrying the burden of others. And constantly hiding our most essential parts. So slowly we wither. We succumb to the pressure and are no longer able to feel and nourish our desires. Not because it comes natural, but because it is something we learned. Through upbringing and education, sometimes through our culture. Lessons that have deeply woven into our self-image and our view of the world. Fortunately, there is something we can do about this. It is possible to do inner work in order to clear out these cobwebs. Then we let go of what never belonged to us in the first place, what no longer serves us, and replace it with something that fits with who we are. This is how we make room for our desires, for our goodness, and bring it into the world. And that makes us all a little bit better.