Today is a glorious day here in St. Louis, MO. There is an incredibly bright blue sky overhead and comfortable temperatures which are always a gift in the summer here.
It’s the 4th of July which has me thinking about Independence. In this country we have this wonderful gift. I’m extremely grateful, but I am also aware of the ways that my clients and I give up our personal independence on a regular basis.
What I am referring to is our tendency to be controlled and ruled by the thoughts in our heads that we take seriously. We each have our own foreign monarchy trying to call the shots for us in a way that is not in our own best interest.
For example, many of us have a voice that tells us that we are never good enough. It doesn’t matter what we do or how hard we try, this clever voice has a way of undoing our best efforts by noticing some shortcoming. Many of us have a voice that seems to make its living by pointing out ways that we don’t look the way we should. We’re too short, tall, heavy, skinny, old,…..on and on. These voices judge our behavior. We shouldn’t have said that or we should just realize that we aren’t as smart as we should be.
Do you recognize this voice? If so, don’t give up. There is great news! This news is that we always, yes, always have a choice as to whether we take these voices seriously! Yes, we get to be in charge. The voices are pretty much automatic, but we feed them and empower when we allow them to be The Truth. Taking charge means noticing the voice’s message and recognizing that it is optional as to whether we pay any more attention to the message. Some people dismiss the thought by saying, “Thanks for sharing” and then moving on with their day with no more attention paid to it.
What you will find is that when we don’t “feed” these thoughts with our rapt attention, they slowly begin to lose their power and and not show up as often.
As usual, it’s all a matter of mindfulness. We need to pay attention to what it is that we are paying attention to so that we see that we always have choices as to whether we want to continue to do what we are doing (& , of course, get the same old results) or choose something else.
I remember times in my life when I was afraid to let myself be free to just be me. I always needed to look around to see who was watching. What would they think of me? Would I meet their approval? Would they think less of me and shun me? Maybe if I kept my mouth shut they would think I was smart.
As a result of this concern, I let my life become smaller and smaller. It was safe because I was playing it safe by doing nothing – except EATING!
Yes, EATING! I did lots of that. Now, I have to add that I did my eating in secret. I would never allow anyone to see me stuffing Reese’s Peanut Butter cups into my mouth – Oh, no! Never! Not in public. This was a very solitary, secret project. It was also very shameful. As a child I would grab a handful of cookies when no one was looking, run to my room & hide them under my bed. All evening I would remember, fondly, my delicious secret that was waiting for me in my room.
Later in college I would sneak food into my dorm room. Later as a wife and mother, I also continued this trend. Food and eating were my secret obsession. I was a good Mom, but in most of my spare time in my head I was plotting when I could next sneak off to eat.
My life had become smaller and smaller. The one interesting thing that I did for myself when my children were growing up was to begin to meditate. For the first time in my life I began to calmly notice my patterns without judgement. I just noticed. It slowly dawned on me how I had allowed my life to shrivel up into a little dried up ball of doubts and fears. I saw how my concern about what others thought about me was paralyzing me.
It slowly dawned on me as I sat in quiet meditative reflection that I was dying to be free to be the woman I was meant to be, using my own heart and intelligence to begin to make wise decisions that were in my own best interest. I could never make everyone happy. That was not possible. Besides that, it was not the point. The point was to behave in a way that I respected.
Certainly my relationship to food changed during this time. Food began to fade into the background. I no longer needed to use it as a distraction from living a meaningful life. I could actually check in with myself to see if I was hungry before I ate – Imagine that! I slowed my eating down so that I could mindfully savor the healthy food I came to prefer. With mindfulness I had come to notice that peanut butter cups were extremely salty and made me painfully thirsty, leaving a bad taste in my mouth for hours and a lethargic feeling in my body and mind for an entire day. I had never noticed this before. I was too busy running away from my life.
All of the years that I spent playing it safe are over and gone. I thank God that I finally woke up, via meditation and mindfulness. They saved my life and I hope that the sharing of my story might help to save someone else’s life. Dare to be who you are meant to be. Take risks. Make mistakes and learn from them.
I know that it really seems like that rude driver who just cut you off on the highway made you stressed. Just as it seems like your inconsiderate boss who gave you another assignment made you stressed. And then there’s the weather which is stressing you. How about your kids? They create more stress with all of their demands and after school activities. We haven’t even brought up your spouse and mother-in-law yet! You have no choice but to feel overwhelmed with stress and anger, right?
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that I am going to vote Wrong on this. And this truly is the good news. We do have a choice. We play a major role in the stress that we experience.
Yes, there are many stressors that find their way into our lives. It’s how we respond or react to them that makes all the difference. It’s what we tell ourselves about what is happening that will determine how we feel about those stressors.
When I was younger, I used to keep a running tally of all the things that I felt were going wrong in my life. I guess I didn’t want to forget any of them! Anyway, this tally made me very anxious, discouraged and Stressed. I would repeat them like a mantra, over and over, working myself up more and more. I don’t imagine I was much fun to be around and I most certainly was not fun to live inside of!
I began to observe people who appeared to be serene and happy. When I spoke with them, I noticed that they also had stressors in their lives, but they did not focus on them. If they did mention them, they always had a way of reassuring themselves. For example, if they had a boss who was always dumping work on them, they might say, “but, of course, I can only do one thing at a time. I’ll eventually get things done.” I would feel better just hearing them speak in this common sense way. They might not be thrilled about the cold, dreary, dark day outside, but they might say, “Days like this really help me notice and appreciate the beautiful days which will be here soon enough.” Somehow that lifted my spirit and brought a little sunshine into my heart.
Perhaps life is all about what we make of it. As far as I can tell, everybody has their fair share of unpleasant, anxiety-producing things that occur over time. It’s the way that we talk to ourselves about these inevitable events. Do we whine, cry, scream, moan when they happen or do we take them in stride, bringing kindness and compassion to ourselves. We are not unique. We all suffer. But tormenting ourselves by telling ourselves how unfair it is, how we will never get everything done, how life is awful is truly optional suffering.