Whatever I’m doing, I like to immerse myself in it. Sometimes, if I’m in a particular mood, I’ll bury myself. Although they both imply focus, they’re not the same! One is like swimming around underwater, and the other is like sinking into the mud at the bottom of the lake.
Immersion is the good kind—when you’re immersed in something, you’re awestruck, enraptured; you’re learning and growing, and everything seems like wonder before your eyes. Did you know that you can do X, Y, or Z? Did you know it could make you feel so good?
Burying is the bad. I don’t want to talk to anybody. Go away, I’m doing the dishes. Technically you’re engaged in what you’re doing, but the motivation is wrong. You’re caught up in that thing because you’re trying to cover something else up: a concern, a nagging thought, a sense of unease. You’re ignoring something.
Take the following example, culled from my own life. I’m about to cook dinner. I’m chopping onions. Someone comes into the kitchen to talk to me. My responses go like “Yeah,” “OK,” or “Hmm.” My body language is off; my back is usually squarely towards the person, and I tighten up. Whether I realize or not, I’m subconsciously trying to exclude the other person. I might start a particular topic of conversation, but this is a mere cordiality.
“How was the party the other night?”
“Oh, nice.” I don’t really care—can’t you see I’m choppin onions here?! I silently plead for them to go away, and excuse my awkwardness by devoting extra care to my stinky bulbs.
Really, the onions will get chopped just the same if I put a little extra soul into my conversation. The main difference is that, in the first scenario, I didn’t really want to talk in the first place. I pretend to be extra-involved in my cooking to cover up the tension I feel between me and a given person.
This goes the same for anything. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and I like to try my best at anything I do. Naturally, this requires a high level of attention. But when I’m buried in whatever I’m doing, there’s no room for anything (or anyone) else.
It’s easy to use action as a defense mechanism. I really like getting approval from other people, but I’m afraid of getting hurt. The solution: hide away in your pursuits. For a long time, I’ve wanted for people to look at me and infer some sense of worth based on the results of my efforts. “Wow, Joe is so cool! Look at the way he rock climbs! He’s so buff!” Or “Just look at how good that essay is!” Or “I can’t believe how fast you picked that up!” Insert any positive quality at the end of those sentences, and you have the rough idea. The core of me is still obscured. There’s just enough poking above the ground to deal with others on the surface level, but all you see is a man, some one, doing some thing.
Have you ever been buried by friends at the beach? You lie down in a ditch and they pile sand on top of you. Eventually you get sick of it. It gets hard to breathe.
If burying is selective attention mixed with shame, then immersion is focus mixed with gratitude. You’re still in whatever you’re doing, but it’s YOU, and it’s ALL you. Instead of stifling self-expression, the immersive activity becomes a means to that end. Recently, this happens when I play music, when I say what’s on my mind, when I joke with people, when I write.
The tricky part is that any one activity can play both roles; it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s about how you feel when you’re doing it. Some days are better than others. I’m in a music class right now, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Sometimes, though, I’ll walk away from the piano frustrated, tired, or fed up. It just happens sometimes. *shrug*
Everybody buries themselves to a degree—everybody! So instead of soullessly going about your duties, trudging along with a heavy heart and weary eyes, take a step back. If you don’t feel it then relax, take a few deep breaths, and ask what part of your experience you’re trying to bury. That’s what really needs your attention.
I’ve committed to unburying, little by little. I think the key is to go a little bit easier on yourself. The only two things I’m really trying to uphold are meditating every day and NoFap (http://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/faq if you don’t already know). Other than that, I’m on the lookout for doing things with a defensive attitude. If your heart’s not in something extra-curricular, then don’t worry about it! Tonight my body hurts, so I decided against climbing, and I’m tired, so I decided against meeting up with a friend. Not to worry; it’ll happen in good time!
Recently I’ve felt pulled back into writing, so here’s where I’ve landed. The final practice is simply writing more! For me, communication is the center of unburying. Be on the lookout for different limbs of mine erupting from the sand at odd angles. See you all soon.