Wednesday, May 8, 2019

How To Stop "Going At" Life

I was taught to “go at” things. Studying, working, writing, organizing, yard work, house cleaning, sewing, reading, praying, fasting, . . . .You name it, in my childhood anything worth doing was worth doing fast and going at it hard.

The shaman with whom I trained decades ago had been a US Marine. Yeah, that was part of the appeal: twenty-two days of ceremonial fasting and praying alone in the wilderness; combat training in the daytime and nights of ceremony on the Mohave desert; martial arts testing to see if we could stay centred and focused no matter what. One of the student's leg broke during a test. We all heard the bone snap. She went to the hospital and we just kept at it.

I used to apply the “go at it” motto to everything including my spirituality.

Old habits die hard.

The last seven months have been the most sedentary of my life. (ME/CFS/FM flare plus a broken foot bone that took a very long time to heal) I recently decided to exercise to see if I can regain some strength. The problem is, if I “go at” exercise I risk crashing the next day and ending up in bed for a week or two. . . or ten.

But I have no sense of where the line is. How much is too much? I can feel fine in the moment and be unable to get out of bed the next day.

So, I consider something on the lightest side of reasonable (like four sets of twelve reps on the weight machine at the local community centre) and cut that in half. This is harder than it sounds. I can hear my brother telling me I’m a wimp, can feel my mother shaking her head in disgust. And I think- what’s the point? How can it have any impact to work this slowly and effortlessly?

But here’s the thing: yesterday I noticed that I did not even break a sweat doing the twenty minute brisk walk I’d been doing for ten days. I thought I must have the wrong song on my headset, but nope. I had actually improved so much that the speed I was going felt effortless! How is this possible?

And I realized that not only was I taught that I needed to “go at” whatever I was doing in order to earn the right to be here and belong, I was also taught to believe that real gains were made (earned) only when we push ourselves.

And apparently that isn’t true!

I will increase my cardio. A little bit. Just enough to get my heart pumping a little. And I will stay at that new rate until my heart rate no longer increases at all.

What if we don’t have to try so hard?

What if pushing ourselves, pushes us right past the sweet spot of being fully here and present?

What if tenderness is more potent than toughness?

What if it’s not even that slow and steady wins the race, but that there simply is no race unless we create one? What if it’s not a marathon or a sprint. . . . but just a life lived as one small, brief and highly biodegradable human being?

What if what we have to offer is how we do whatever we are doing in this moment? And that is enough. ~Oriah

As always photos like this one from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming remind me of how the world creates beauty every day, effortlessly.


  1. I read this post in bed this morning before getting up, and it completely changed the tone of my day. I realised how much I have been 'going at it', and I slowed down at my desk and with my children and gave myself permission not to be Superwoman. Such a relief! Thank you for sharing this, and for making a difference. Charlie x

    1. Oh Charlie, I love that this shifted things in your day- thank you for letting me know. Oriah

  2. Oriah, I learned something similar regarding exercising when I discovered the "Lifetime Ladder" (Google: "What, me exercise?" fourmilab). Doing some kind of low level sports in precisely the way my body needs it, and even at home. I needed to let go and have achieved more than I ever thought. Thank you for your encouragement, Oriah

    1. Nora, so glad you found what works for you. Will have a look at the website you mention, although walking seems to be the only "sport" I can manage right now. Your example inspires!

  3. Hello Oriah, I woke up this morning with some ideas about my life and was ready to "go at it" and then I read your words!!! I started to chuckle because that's what I normally do, but now I'm happy to sit in this new knowledge that's been given to me. Thank you, thank you once again, Diane

    1. lol- sounds like the timing was perfect for you Diane :-) Glad it was useful/

  4. Oriah! Great timing, as usual and wonderful running into you again. I've lost touch.

    Haven't heard from you since I've switched from photography to painting a few years back. Since then I've been obsessed with 'getting somewhere.' Problem is, I think I got there and now I'm lost, again, which is a wonderfully peaceful place to be, as I can now find myself again.

    For a couple years I've painted like a madman in that foolish, relentless race to earn the right to belong as you wrote about. Realizing this for years does not prevent repeating this pattern, but gentle reminders such as yours are incredibly helpful in stopping this pattern of madness.

    Just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the past couple days of freedom in which I have enjoying absolute nothing. I intend to invest more of my valuable time doing same, thanks to your gentle whispers.

    You can see some of my manic manifestations at

    Now that I know where to find you, I'll be listening in.

    Louie Rochon

    1. Louie- good to reconnect and glad this post is helping you to slow down a little. May the discovery continue! Oriah

  5. Hello, Oriah! What a lovely message. I appreciate being reminded that I need need to struggle so much in life, I don’t need to push so hard to make dreams into reality. What I have found in my own life is that showing up in the moment for the truth of what is is so much more powerful than trying to make things happen. Thank you for the reminder that we are all in this together and unity is much more powerful than single minded pursuit. Blessings to you and to your “right on time” recovery. ๐Ÿ˜€ Doug