I got really sick this past weekend–as in, couldn’t-get-two-steps-away-from the bathroom sick. When I wasn’t shuffling to the porcelain throne, I was flat on my back in bed. In the realm of Getting Things Done, I was an utterly useless life form.
But that’s not why I’m mad at me.
In the spirit of misery loves company, I broke my own rule about limiting exposure to the combination circus/madhouse that passes for news these days, including the comment sections (which are the online equivalent of slogging through a septic tank barefoot). Using only my trusty Kindle and a stylus, I was able to work myself up into a froth of frustration, fear and rage in a surprisingly short period of time.
But that’s not why I’m mad, either. (Well, okay, maybe a little bit. It’s not like I don’t know better by now.)
Being out of commission gave my mind all kinds of time to come out and play. A few of its favorite games:
Compile impossible To Do lists to be accomplished when I felt better.
Take me on a trip down Memory Lane, featuring stops at every bad/painful/embarrassing thing I’d experienced since kindergarten.
Conjure up doomsday scenarios of a remote future that somehow managed to bleed into the present.
But that’s not why I’m mad at me, either. My mind is an unruly beast under the best of circumstances, of which being sick isn’t one.
Being sidelined brought everything–work, job, chores, all the “gotta do” yadda-yadda–to a screeching halt. At first I was too busy being miserably sick to realize it. (Intestinal bugs are demanding little critters.) When the worst was over, I had ample time to look–really look–at my life.
And it wasn’t pretty.
I discovered I’d been so busy scrambling to meet expectations (both my own, which are insanely high, and external ones, some of which verge on the impossible) that I had left no room in my life for……
That is why I’m mad.
How could I let this happen again? How did I manage to fall back into the trap of
comparing my insides to other peoples’ outsides?
thinking that I, and I alone, am responsible for anything and everything that crosses my orbit?
If your mental world looks frightful, And everyone seems spiteful, When it’s all a big tale of woe, Let it go, let it go, let it go! (To the tune of “Let It Snow”)
Yeah, I know–easier said than done. But not impossible.
I’ve spent more years than I care to think about trying to will the world to conform to my expectations. If brooding was a natural energy source, I’d be a gazillionaire twenty times over. If obsessive thinking moved the minds and hearts of others, I’d be breaking bread with Gandhi. And if driving myself crazy with worry or stewing with resentment made the slightest difference in the martyrdom of pinpricks we call daily life, I’d be as simperingly sweet as Pollyanna. (Okay, that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.)
A few months ago I came across a book that turned my old mental patterns upside down (for the better, let me hasten to add): The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. Reading this book helped me see that, while my mind is a nifty little critter, I am not my mind, I’m it’s owner.
And, like other nifty little critters the mind needs to be controlled by its owner, not the other way around.
This, my friends, is power in its truest form, the one area in our lives which we truly can control: how we choose to let our thoughts color reality.
Here are a few excerpts from “The Voice Inside Your Head,” the first chapter of Untethered Soul, that grabbed me from the get-go and kept me reading:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind–you are the one who hears it.”
“Eventually you will see the real cause of problems is not life itself. It is the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.”
(When listening to all your internal thoughts): “What you end up experiencing is really a personal presentation of the world according to you, rather than the stark, unfiltered experience of what is really out there.”
“If you can’t get the world the way you like it, you internally verbalize it, judge it, complain about it, and then decide what to do about it. This makes you feel more empowered….In the thought world, there’s always something you can do to control the experience (italics mine).” Note to self: there usually isn’t…
“Reality is just too real for most of us, so we temper it with the mind. You will come to see that the mind talks all the time because you gave it a job to do. You use it as a protection mechanism, a form of defense.” In other words, we’ve given the mind an impossible task–protecting us from the World Out There. No wonder it never shuts up!
In Chapter Two: Your Inner Roommate, the author has you imagine your constant mental chatter as coming from another person who’s always beside you–when you’re trying to sleep, take a shower, watch TV, get some work done. How to handle this obviously neurotic individual who never, ever gives it a rest? I don’t know about you, but I’d bitch-slap her to Mars!
But bitch-slapping your own mind isn’t so simple. Resorting to copious amounts of drugs and/or alcohol might shut it up, but only temporarily, and a hiatus of this nature often leaves a host of problems in its wake.
So how to handle the never-ending stream of thoughts that emanate from the eternally-babbling monkey-mind?
As soon as they pop up, every time they pop up. Then go about your business.
After reading Untethered Soul and doing some additional research, I’ve managed to cobble together a little routine that serves me pretty well:
Example: As I’m driving to the grocery store, my mind shifts into protective mode: “You should have started out earlier. The store’s going to be crowded. It’ll be a madhouse. You’ll get all stressed out. You might even have a panic attack, like that time in 1982. You don’t want go through that again, do you?”
What I do: I cut off the babbling brook in midstream and ask myself the following questions:
1. “Is any of this helpful?” Answer: Hell, no. 2. “Can I release these thoughts/shut them off?” Answer: Of course I can. I’m the owner, right? 3. “Do I want to release these thoughts?” Answer: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. 4. “When do I want to release them?” Answer: How about right now! (I usually accompany this last one with a gesture like I’m throwing a handful of sand into the air, but that’s just me and I’m weird that way.)
Then I crank me up some reggae and get on with my errand.
When I first started challenging my thoughts this way, they were not pleased and resisted as hard as they could. (The mind’s trying to protect me, remember?) I just kept releasing them, every time they cropped up–and they cropped up a lot! Eventually the thoughts became less frequent. A lot of them have gone away for good. My little routine became second nature to me, and I found myself becoming a much happier and more relaxed person. (Added bonus: I’m actually a whole lot more productive than I ever was back when my thoughts were riding herd on me all the time.)
I’ve come to the conclusion that my mind is like television–chock full of all kinds of programming, available 24/7 whether I want it or not. It’s up to me to remember that I’m not a captive audience. I’m the one holding the remote, and I can hit the mute button–or change the channel completely–any time I choose.
I’ve often been told I have the pain tolerance of a moose.
Sometimes this is a good thing, like when I need to get blood drawn, or do battle with an overgrown rosebush.
Sometimes it’s a not-so-good thing, like when I find blood all over my keyboard because I didn’t feel the killer paper cut I inflicted on myself earlier, or when the “slight” (to me) nasal congestion that’s been tugging at my attention for weeks turns out to be a five-alarm sinus infection.
And sometimes it’s downright dangerous, like this past April when my gallbladder decided enough was enough and I ended up having emergency surgery to yank that sucker out.
For weeks I’d been blowing off the relatively minor (to me) pain in my upper right side as punishment for hauling something too heavy, sleeping in an awkward position, yadda-yadda-yadda. The lack of energy I blamed on stress (of course) and a highly active dream life. The increasing bouts of indigestion I attributed to getting older and needing to watch what I ate. Nothing to worry about.
Until I woke up at 2:15 one morning feeling like I was being ripped apart from the inside.
The trip to the hospital was ungodly, with every bump in the road providing its own exquisite torture. When it was time to get out of the car I thought I’d die, and I will always have fond memories of the wonderful person in the E.R. who set me up with my first IV drip of morphine. After the laparoscopic surgery, the doctor told me my gallbladder was in such incredibly bad shape she couldn’t believe I’d been walking around upright for so long.
Before this adventure, I had never given much thought to my gallbladder. Being me, now that I didn’t have one anymore, I suddenly became vitally interested in just what was that little gizmo’s place in the the scheme of things, and how (if?) I would survive. So I cruised the internet and discovered that the gallbladder’s main function was to store bile from the liver, and I would be just fine and dandy without the pesky thing.
Once I got past the post-op fun and games, I felt better than I had in years. Getting rid of all the pent-up bitter bile and hard stones did such wonders for me physically that I wondered if a similar, albeit non-physically invasive, procedure might do the same mentally. So one day I went out to the battered marble circle that serves as a picnic table at chez Frahmann and conducted a small ritual. I won’t TMI you with all the details, but here’s part of what I said:
“Just as I was physically rid of my gallbladder
Which was filled with stones, bitterness, and bile,
So by this ritual I rid myself of the bitterness and bile
And the slow, seeping poison of self-doubt and self-sabotage.
By this ritual I banish resentment of:
–my past and current circumstances and my place on the path;
–other people, their circumstances, their behavior towards me and their impact on my life;
–frustrating and unfair world circumstances which are beyond my control;
–obligations which I see as infringements on my freedom
–myself, for my mistakes and errors in judgment, and my ever-appalling, eternally frustrating lack of perfection.
By this ritual I banish:
–Perfectionism that makes me afraid to leave the starting gate.
–Whatever it is that makes me afraid to color outside the lines
in my creative and everyday life.”
Life didn’t instantly become perfect, of course, because nothing ever is. But after giving the heave-ho to all that mental sludge I carried around for far too long, I’m feeling better than I have in years.