A phrase came immediately to mind, and I've been contemplating what it actually means, and why I find it so difficult to even approach. Put simply, I need to work on this: just because I can do something, doesn't necessarily mean that I should.
I'm not sure if I'm the only one who acts, more frequently than not, on the basic belief that the only thing that should stop me from taking on a new commitment is an inability to actually do whatever it is that I'm being asked to do. The problem with this belief is that, push comes to shove, there is very little that I couldn't do (I don't think I'm unique in this, either, by the way; I think that all of us, if we really really had to do something, could find a way to do it). The problem is with that "push comes to shove" bit; I am not good at judging if the pushing and shoving are real, or if the sense of do-or-die pressure is simply a fiction dreamed up by the little anxious voices in my back brain. The upshot is that I find it very difficult to say "no, I can't". And nearly impossible to say "no, I don't want to". (It probably doesn't help that questions are so frequently phrased as, "Can you do this?" Well, yes, I suppose I can...)
I don't know about you, but when I'm struggling with an old ingrained habit like this, it helps a lot to know where its power comes from. This one has a lot of oomph, some of it from more general bad habits, some, though, from principles that I hold dear, and that's what makes this a tough one. In terms of the negative, some of this comes from a sort of deficit mentality, the kind where I think: I'll never see this yarn again/have a chance to eat this particular food again/get this opportunity again. And the next thing I know, the yarn is purchased, the food is eaten, and the commitment is made. Hence the resonance of that watchword "sufficient". Added to that is a long-held sense that what other people want is somehow more important than what I want, or than my needs/sanity/etc. Not to mention the fear that if I say no to people, they will no longer like me. These are not useful things to believe, and I'd be more than happy to shed them.
But the feeling that my ability to do something in some way obligates me to do it also comes from principles that I have really thought about and that I try to live by. One of these is my general dislike of hypocrisy. I try really hard (I don't always succeed, goodness knows, but I do try) not to criticize people for doing things that I also do, and as a concomitant, I try hard not to expect things of people that I wouldn't do myself. It makes me crazy when people stand around saying, "Why doesn't someone do something", but then refuse to step up and do things themselves. I guess what I'm saying is that I try hard to hold myself to the standards that I hold other people to.
I also know myself to be truly lucky, to have not only a sufficiency but an embarrassment of riches in my life, and I am very aware that no small part of those riches comes from the actions of other people, some of whom I know but many of whom I don't. And I believe in my obligation to respond to that generosity of the community of humankind with a generous heart. That means that when I see something that needs doing, the seeing comes with an obligation to act.
I also fundamentally believe in people, and in the capacity of people to do great good. And I believe that I should do what I can to make the world a place where people have a chance to exercise that capacity. Again, I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that I always (or even mostly!) manage any of these things, but they are guiding principles that I come back to when I judge my own actions, and when I try to decide on right action.
What I seem to have lost here is a sense of balance, of not only taking care of other people, but also of taking care of my self, of holding non-violence as a key principle in judging my own actions. I encourage my friends to set limits, to take care of themselves, to say no, and I cheer them on when they do, but I don't give myself the same encouragement. If I truly do believe in holding myself to the standards I set for others, why not that one? This is where I stall out, though. I know what I can do if I have to, and the voice in my head that says that choosing not to do is the lazy choice (and furthermore, that my "principle" of finding balance is just an excuse to be lazy) is a pretty loud voice. I think that this is where a broad reading of "sufficient" would be a good thing: not only do I have sufficient (a plethora of sufficiency, in fact!), but I am sufficient. Imagine.
So there it is: Just because I can, doesn't mean I should. Deliberate. Sufficient. Balance. Mindfulness. Watchwords for a new year.