I am participating in a cohort experience led by the insightful couple, Sara and Otis Woodard, who create the podcast Practice Life (www.practicelife.org) These past couple of weeks I have been religiously practicing a Loving Kindness Meditation for people in my world. Our small cohort has had some challenges finding a common time to meet over Skype to discuss our strides and pitfalls in furthering our individual goals, causing frustration and uncertainty. An email from Otis has stuck with me in the ensuing days. He writes about hoping we are keeping on track, "And, if not, that you get right back to getting it back on track, as getting off track is predictable. What isn’t predictable, but is exceptional, is wasting no time to get things... back on track. (Notice that once things come off track, that we often go into a funk and can’t seem to muster the time or energy or focus to simply get right on getting things going again. It’s all part of the process. So if you are struggling, just get going again. Simple like that.)"
Otis' breaking it down resonated with me because, indeed, our scheduling is not the only place I lately have felt off track. It's tax time and while I have been in business for 10 years, I still find that OVERWHELM visits me when I need to total up my numbers, gather all supporting documents and put a numerical measure on what I consider to be my vocation. I notice that I have a way of experiencing yet-to-be-organized-documents as something personal about ME. It goes to the heart of what I think many of us experience: "Can I do this?" which quickly goes to: "I don't think I can," which lives close to "I am not good enough." If there were a topographical map for my thoughts, these three would be neighbors, indeed, neighbors who throw loud, raucous parties that last into the late dark hours and blast their stereos again when the rooster crows. The three thoughts, canidothis, idon'tthinkican, and iamnotgoodenough fill the air of this neighborhood in my brain, causing my heart beat to rise, my focus to fall, and my procrastinatoids (is there such a chemical? I think it's leaking out all over!) to overtake my usual Get It Done Neighborhood Watch Squad. I find myself folding laundry, sweeping the floor, responding to email inquiries, and training our poorly behaved dogs--all things that, in reality, I would never choose to do. They just feel better than confronting that neighbor iamnotgoodenough. When I stop, I realize, I AM NOT IN REALITY--I am in my thoughts, and they are not loving, or kind.
I chuckle, knowing that for my last girls' group I illustrated the momentary but sometimes persistent nature of our thoughts as clouds moving across the sky. I asked the girls, lying on their backs, to identify thoughts they sometimes have, and their poignant words floated out for all to hear. These minds have the same thoughts as I do, only in the trappings of a chapter book reading, learning to write cursive, I forgot my lunch box, afraid of the dark, when can we go inside? it's too bright out here elementary school kid without much say in her own schedule. I want them to know that their thoughts are ONLY THOUGHTS, manifestations of their prefrontal cortex which keeps alert so that they can survive the perceived threats to their lives. Thousands and thousands of years ago, as we know, we needed to be alert to every threat. Now we just need to follow the generally agreed upon rules of society and we will survive to the best of our capacity.
I, an adult, who (mostly) manages my own schedule, needed Otis' reminder to do the unpredictable and the exceptional, and muster my energy for getting right back on track. It starts for me with noticing that my thoughts have--if you'll accept that cloud metaphor--clouded over my sunshine-y energy and caused a short cloudy period. I can create my own gust of wind by DOING THE THING I need to do. Taxes, let's say, and to face the reality of what the bottom line means. With a bit of a push from Otis, and a gust of wind, I notice new thoughts passing fast: "I am doing what I love in my work. I am a mental health practitioner, not an accountant. This is a once-a tax-time experience, not a daily ritual." I now notice these thoughts as they float by and I get right back to work, grouping receipts, adding numbers. I am evaluating digits, NOT my self-worth. It is in the action that I can find a way to get right back on track. And all the while, I can do my loving kindness meditation.
May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be free from pain and suffering. May I live a joyful life.
May (my tax person) be happy. May she be safe. May she be free from pain and suffering. May she live a joyful life.
May (my emotionally taxing person) be happy. May she be safe. May she be free from pain and suffering. May she live a joyful life.
May (my beloved person) be happy. May she be safe. May she be free from pain and suffering. May she live a joyful life.
May all beings be happy. May all beings be safe. May all beings be free from pain and suffering. May all beings live a joyful life.
It all seems smoother in the sky when I do that, fewer clouds and more spaciousness within and out.