My friend and I were talking yesterday about the possibility of only doing things that we want to do, rather than acting out of this sense of obligation: I really should visit my grandmother; I really ought to clean the house.
Acting out of a sense of joy or play is a central tenet of nonviolent communication, where it is said that “an otherwise joyful activity performed out of obligation, duty, fear, guilt or shame will lose its joy and eventually engender resistance”. This quote is from a great little article by Marshall Rosenberg, one of the leaders in nonviolent communication education, called Don’t do anything that isn’t play!
Of course, there are things that, in a particular moment, I don’t want to do, like getting up early to do some exercise. What I want to do is to keep on sleeping. The question for me is: Is there a bigger want, that sits behind my immediate desire to keep snoozing? Am I choosing to exercise, because ultimately this is what I want?
I have often found the term ‘life-giving’ helpful. Is it life-giving to go to Pilates, to cook dinner, to visit a friend in hospital, to worship with my faith community, to go to work? I like this term because it is very broad and asks me to consider all dimensions of life: about myself, about others, about the earth, about the immediate moment and also beyond.
For me, something that is life-giving enriches my life, opens my perspectives and horizons, opens my heart, brings me joy and satisfaction. A life-giving thing feels good and right; it makes me feel more alive. Life-giving things also have those effects on other people and the planet. They are all-round good things.
For me ‘Is it life-giving?’ is a more helpful question than, “Do I want to do it?”