In the immortal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – are you just going through the motions?
She sang about going through the motions when she was kind of meant to be dead but wasn’t (so, really immortal words). Those of us very much alive, however, sometimes do the same. Obviously there are a number of uninspiring tasks we must complete that could have us singing her song: doing the dishes and completing paperwork immediately spring to mind. But I think we also go through the motions even when we can choose what to do.
How often, for instance, when you are having fun, are you just checking a box? Do you really want a glass of wine or are you just checking the box of “relaxing after a stressful day”? Do you really feel like eating that treat/watching that show/getting that shirt/going out with those people – is it just that you think you should? Are they just boxes to check off?
Carried throughout our daily lives, year after year, we can start to have a circular sort of existence, cluttered with activity but leaving emptiness. I wanted to have fun, so I did this fun thing, therefore I must have had fun. But did I? We don’t always stop to consider if our satisfaction comes from a thing itself, or just having done the thing.
Our society doesn’t exactly encourage to do that sort of soul searching, either. After all, advertisements promise us all the time that if we buy a certain thing/check that certain box, then we will be satisfied.
I’m the first one to leap at a Disney World commercial, thinking it will indeed deliver the perfect family bonding experience. But in practice, you can’t do it without scheduling every moment. You plan out every ride/meal ahead of time, do it quickly, post a photo of yourself doing it, then rush to the next thing and repeat. Fun happens, but not as much as an awful lot of checking off boxes.
That’s not all bad, of course. Holidays are full of boxes you check, traditions you fulfill, and that brings its own sort of happiness. And framing and curating our life on social media can help you make sense of things too.
But along the way, the pleasures that aren’t just box checking go by the wayside. And those are so very vital to our personal well-being. If I consider the best and most satisfying times of my life, they have not been the box checking pleasures – they’ve been things that just popped up out of this crazy, unpredictable world. Surprising things, funny things, things that helped me bond with others.
In order to experience such things, you have to be open to openness. You have to leave some time open. You have to be open to new people. You have to have activities that are open-ended: take a meandering walk, engage in conversation where the topics can go anywhere.
That can be scary. Leaving yourself open means opening the way for bad things as well. You might get bored. Or lost. Or hurt. But in the end, getting through those mistakes and hardships creates real satisfaction – the kind we were meant to have, I think. We are training every day for what lies ahead, even in our fun times – just like a dog loves to run and a cat loves to pounce.
In order to get out of just checking off boxes, I suggest that we check them out instead, choosing what to do in a way that is always thoughtful. To those in the Doctor Who fandom, that means we mentally get in the box – the TARDIS, that is. The Doctor is the ultimate embodiment of a person who is open to what the universe offers, in the past, present, and future. Even if there is a destination programmed into it, TARDIS doesn’t necessarily take the Doctor to that specific place. But the Doctor is always where he or she needs to be to make the amazing happen.
Incidentally, Crazy Ex Girlfriend encapsulated all of this perfectly in the song “I go to the Zoo,” where Nathaniel talks about how his perfect stress releases aren’t at all what you’d imagine for such a buff cool guy – no, he takes his a$$ back to the zoo, where he can meander and think.
To remember this in yoga, we can sit in Easy Pose or Sukhasana – basically just sitting with your legs crossed. It’s not a yoga pose that you work towards achieving, it’s a simple pose that leaves you open to whatever’s on the way. The Doctor himself was in it on top of the TARDIS in the episode Listen, when he was trying to figure things out. So keep calm and be like the Doctor: chuck all the little boxes and get into a box that is bigger on the inside.