I’ve been seeing a few articles recently about the additional mental load that women tend to carry in relation to the household.
It has been described as ‘the invisible load that drags women down’. Sociologist Susan Waltzer was one of the first people to document it twenty years ago in a paper entited ‘Thinking about the baby’ in which she pointed out how much more of the intellectual, mental and emotional work is done by women. In other words how much more they think about the running and management of the household compared to their husbands. (I don’t mean how much more they think about the house than they think about their husbands. Well actually perhaps that’s true as well but that’s a different topic.)
One of the articles ends with “to truly be free, we need to free women’s minds.” And “if that work were shared, women’s extra burdens would be lifted. Only then will women have as much lightness of mind as men.”
To begin with, I was all ‘right on sista!’ because absolutely I have the running of the house in my head – the bills and accounts, the mortgage, the shopping, the cooking, the lives of all 4 of us, the clothes and washing, the uniforms, the tidying, birthdays, parties, Christmas, presents, holidays, family, child care, hobbies, household appliances, the on-going decision not to have a pet…
I started thinking: wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have all that filling my head up. Imagine how BRILLIANT I would be with all that lightness of mind!
And then the alarm bells started. These alarm bells ring when I start drifting into the illusion that circumstances have any direct effect on my mental life.
Let’s look at it this way. How much of that stuff would I have to give to James in order to have ‘lightness of mind’? If I got rid of the birthday parties and the bills would my mind then be ‘free’? Or would I also have to avoid anything to do with cooking and clothes? Then, what if, having reached the perfect amount, I found myself feeling stressed and busy minded a few days later. What would I do then? Offload a bit more? Then a bit more? Until I’m standing there in my pyjamas stressed at today’s item on my to-do list: watch Netflix?
[By the way. I realise of course that there is a whole other, very valid, area of discussion about roles, responsibility and gender which has everything to do with making sure both partners have the privilege of running a home and that one doesn’t unfairly hog it all. I’m not dismissing that in any way. I’m just saying the amount of things to think about has zero to do with mental clarity.]
Stress and overload is not a factor of how much there is to do or how much there is to think about or how much there is to plan or how much there is to decide.
Stress and overload is a factor of believing stressful and overloaded thoughts. That’s it.
Lightness and freedom of mind do not come from having nothing to do and having no responsibilities.
Lightness and freedom of mind come from understanding how our minds work. That’s it.
There is no set limit to the amount of information or responsibility or planning that a human being can handle. It is never the amount of work or the type of content that determines mental clarity.
If it were, the CEOs of multi-nationals would be saying ‘well I’ve only got space in my head to think about product development. Cancel any meetings to do with HR, Finance, Marketing and Sales. Heads of governments would be saying: ‘Hospitals, road systems and security are a bit stressful. Let’s just concentrate on rubbish collection.’
It is the incorrect belief that my stress is coming from the to do list and the things to think about that is causing the heaviness and restriction of mind. Because this belief has me looking outside me, to the place where answers will never be found. I’ll innocently try to reduce my responsibilities but it won’t ultimately make any difference because that is not where the stress is.
When I realise that if I am feeling stressed or concerned it is simply because I am believing my stressed and concerned thoughts in that moment, then I can take them less seriously. I can allow those thoughts to pass on by, knowing that there is no useful information in them.
And as I let them pass, I turn inward. I turn towards the space inside me that has every single answer I could ever require.
It is the space in which I can access with ease not just all the information about my own life (the details of the people I know, the things I have done, the books I have read that might be useful right now) but also the collective, universal intelligence, the space of new ideas, fresh thought and out of the blue solutions.
This space, whether we want to call it our superconscious or intelligence or acuity or resourcefulness, is where it all comes together, where we make connections that no one else has thought of, where we can cut through months of work with a single phone call, where we can add the edge of insight to anything we touch. This intelligence will guide me so clearly and cleverly that decisions seem to melt away.
I have access to the same intelligence that you have, except yours is yours and will directly apply to the things that you want to accomplish, the sports you want to practice, the jobs you want to excel at, the creations you want to bring to the world, the structures you want to build, the family that you want to support, the friends you want to have time with, the household (or event or country or organisation) that you want to run.
We are at the very start of understanding how this works. Nothing is more exciting or has more potential for humanity than the exploration of this inner, loving, infinitely creative, unlimited, always available (no matter how busy you are) intelligence.
The mental space. The final frontier. We aren’t even close