But I have responsibilities!

If you feel the heaviness and pressure of responsibilities — and you’d like to see them a different way — read this.

“You have to go beyond all concepts and you’ll find it in the stillness of your mind, in the quiet chambers of your mind. When you go from the known to the unknown; from the physical to the spiritual. When you hear beyond the word an inner light goes on and it brings out the inner knowledge, wisdom, spiritual intelligence, before the contamination of human thought.” Syd Banks

Do you feel a heaviness when you say or think of responsibilities? They seem such a burden don’t they. Something I ‘have’ to do. Something required. Something necessary. Something keeping me safe in this thing I call ‘my life’ — even if I don’t really like the feeling of it. We believe this is just what grown up life has to be like. Part of the deal.

It makes sense. We were probably all told growing up — take responsibility for your actions! Be more responsible. Grow up and take your responsibilities seriously!

Oof. Heavy!

And then as adults it continues coming with messages of ‘be responsible’ in the form of — get life insurance, save for your pension, get the vaccine, get your will written.

I’ve been talking to so many clients recently who’ve been experiencing the heaviness, seriousness and stressfulness of the confusion of ‘responsibilities’ that I felt they were worth exploring here — to clear some thought-muck off the lens.

How to read this post

What a weird thing to write — how to read this post — but usually we read things — and have been taught to read things — to find the answer and the right thing to do on the back of it.

For example we’d normally come to this topic with the question “What’s the right way of behaving with responsibilities now?”

And I’d like you to instead consider the question “What are responsibilities?” and “Who am I that has responsibilities?”

Because what we’re not interested in here is the ‘right’ thing to do. There is no single ‘right’ thing to do so why would we try and answer something which is impossible?

Instead we’re interested in what feels more truthful, more loving, more peaceful — lighter.

What you think responsibilities are

Fundamentally you imagine responsibilities are something that will secure you and have you feel OK.

As long as I ‘take responsibility’ then I’ll be OK.

Makes sense. You got in trouble, or saw others get in trouble, when you were younger for ‘not taking responsibility’ so the mind has constructed an equation that says ‘take responsibility = not in trouble’ and you like not being in trouble. It feels nicer than being shouted at.

So you think if you take responsibility you’ll not be in trouble: you’ll be doing life right, you’ll be accepted, included, loved. You’ll be safe.

And therefore to not take your responsibilities seriously — ‘I’ve got all these responsibilities you know!’ — looks crazy! Literally irresponsible. Why would I risk getting in trouble by being frivolous about these important responsibilities?!

Can you feel the tension in it? The need to stay on this straight and narrow path of doing ‘the responsible thing’ in order to be OK.

So let’s look at…

What responsibilities actually are

I always like Michael Neill’s metaphor to first of all test whether we’re dealing with a seemingly ‘real’ thing, or a mind-made thing. The test is to ask — can you put it in a wheelbarrow? If you can then you know it’s a material object. If not, you know it’s mind-made, or made of thought.

So then, what’s thought made of?

I asked this once in a nondual group and I got all sorts of amazing answers although none really answered the question. Energy was maybe the most answer-y kind of answer. I searched online to see what neuroscience currently says. There was no clear answer. So instead, have a look for yourself. Yes, just now…

With any thought that arises in your mind just now, see if you can get close in to see what it’s made of. Does it have any shape, form or texture? Can you grab it? Hold it still? Do you see it disappearing as you look?

So this thing we call responsibility is made of thought and thought seems to be made of…nothing. No-thing. There is no ‘thing’ there when you look.

But the actual responsibilities are ‘things’

At this point you might point to the fact the word responsibility may well just be a mind-made label but that it’s referencing ‘actual things’ — the job, the team, the children, the money, the dog, the house, the car, the income after-retirement, the health…

Yes. And…

Is there only one way of experiencing those ‘things’?

I noticed myself recently saying to my daughter ‘I’m responsible for your health’ and I noticed how there was no sense of heaviness with the word. It just seems to be factually true that, while she’s under 18, I have a responsibility — increasingly jointly with her of course — to get medical help when needed, to encourage a covid test when something could be a symptom, to give authorisation for treatment while doing a club or activity.

But, is there someone you know— and maybe it’s you — who feels a great weight with the health actions and decisions for their child, or maybe for a pet, or a relative?

How can that be? Why would some people experience heaviness and others not?

You might say it’s because they’re a different kind of person.

Yes. And…

Has your expeirence of health responsibility for yourself or someone else changed? I definitely remember feeling a great sense of stress and pressure when I first learned babies can’t regulate their body temperature till they’re five. I was so paranoid with my first baby that I would get his clothing wrong and he’d be freezing or overheat — and that I had this responsibility for five whole years!! It looked like a lifetime from there.

So how can responsibility for someone’s health go from ‘stressful and pressured’ to ‘it’s just what I do’ — unless there’s an aspect of thought involved?

And thought is made of…

So yes, there are ‘things’ that you count as responsibilities. But how you experience them varies. I bet there are some you don’t even think about, and yet the ‘thing’ is still there. Only when you think heavy thoughts does the heaviness return.

And I bet there are some responsibilites you feel pressured about and others you don’t. Why would that be if they’re all ‘responsibilities’. You say some are more important than others?…But how is importance decided? Can you put that in a wheelbarrow or…?

But the thought of my responsibilities feels so real!

Yes, it feels real. This amazing capacity of the human system is to make thinking feel real. Thought gets brought to life as feelings in the body, as well as projecting a world that aligns with what’s being thought in the moment. It’s incredible!

So when you think ‘my responsibilities are a real thing and they are really important because they keep me safe’ — you’re going to get heavy, serious feelings and it’s going to look like those responsibilities are ‘things’ that are necessary to keep in place for my wellbeing / peace of mind / health / wealth.

But the instant thinking changes, the feelings change, and the world looks different. Like it did with my kids’ health.

It doesn’t mean I stop helping them stay well, it just doesn’t feel stressful, pressurised or a problem.

And the more I recognise I’m feeling my thinking about the responsibility — not the responsibility itself — the less it makes sense to follow thoughts that lead to stress, pressure and problems.

So now I can do whatever the hell I like?

Well yes, if you want, but you’ve always had that possibility available to you.

So instead, ask — does doing ‘whatever the hell I like’ feel more loving, more connected and more peaceful?

Or does it feel chaotic and risky?

That second feeling is the sign that the mind has just flipped its thought-coin over from ‘must be responsible’ to ‘yay! no responsibilities!’.

Instead, get curious about how your experience of responsibilities shifts as your thinking shifts. As I said at the start, you’ve been reading this to understand “What are responsibilities?” rather than “What’s the right way of behaving with responsibilities now?” so stay with that question.

I also said we’d look at the question of “Who am I that has responsibilities?” That’s in a blog post all of it’s own. You can read it here.

For now, tell me what occurs to you from reading this today.

With love, Helen

I coach and guide smart, passionate, curious people who care about improving the lives of those around them. Often coaches and leaders, they’ve worked hard all their lives to be the ‘best’ them and it doesn’t seem to have delivered the happiness, security or freedom they expected. Now they’re wondering what else is available. I guide you back, prior to stories, to remember the real you because that’s what you, me and the whole world really wants! Find out more here.

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