It’s easier than we think to go through life on autopilot without being truly aware of what we’re doing. I’ve discovered how easy it can be to pour energy into customary activities and not take the time to consider whether that’s the best use of my energy.

As part of the requirements for becoming a Jungian analyst, one has to undergo personal analysis, a type of therapy popularized by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I committed to doing it mostly because I had to in order to fulfill my goal. I soon learned, though, how valuable the analytic process was. As I did the work, I made an important discovery: I had used a lot of energy to keep myself unaware of aspects of myself I found uncomfortable or embarrassing. I had many distractions to keep me busy and to help me avoid feeling insecure, angry, or sad.

As I allowed myself to become aware of my feelings, I began to free up energy that I could use for other things. I became even busier than I had been! Remaining busy was an act of defense, because it kept me from further self-exploration that might distress me. Analysis was difficult enough, I rationalized. I didn’t want random regrets, unexplained irritability, or other challenging emotional experiences to pop up suddenly. I liked the idea of containing my exploration to my therapy sessions. That was easier to accomplish when I extended my To Do list and kept myself busy and distracted.

In retrospect, I would have been better served by devoting time to the contemplation of how to use my energy to serve myself, Spirit, and those I cared about. A vacuum of time is quickly filled, and I found plenty of activities to keep me from the challenging work of changing my life to be more in synch with my values. I didn’t take time out to assess what I really should be doing with my time and energy. It seemed the To Do list filled itself up on its own.

A friend of mine keeps his To Do list in a computer file, and every time he completes a task, he deletes an item on the list. When he thinks of something else he ought to do, he adds it to the list. Every day, he wakes up to an agenda that never seems to grow shorter, only longer. He does not have an entry for “whittle down my To Do list” or “contemplate what I most want to do with my time.”

Take some time when you are not feeling pressured to reexamine your To Do list so you can be sure you are using your energy wisely. Can you spot any items that you could cross of the list right now? Look at the items at the top of your list. Have you prioritized what you say you value?

What items have been lingering on your list for a long time? How would you feel if you began to attend to them right now? How would you feel if you were to cross them off your list? Would you feel more energized? Would you feel guilty?

Time spent in contemplation and self-discovery can be pleasant or it can be uncomfortable. Even when contemplation is uncomfortable, it’s worth tolerating the discomfort so you can discover what your conscious mind is avoiding. It may be emotions you need to explore and learn from and release. It may be insights that make you uncomfortable because they push you to change.

Question the limits you have set on how much time you will spend being still and allowing hidden thoughts and feelings to arise in your awareness. Could you be underestimating how much energy and courage you have to face your challenges?

Only if you take time to discover and understand the uncomfortable aspects of yourself and your life can you begin to make important changes and live with more satisfaction and a greater sense of control over your story.

What will you cross off your To Do list today? Are you willing to devote that slot of time to becoming still and noticing what arises in your awareness?