Wednesday, March 16, 2016

how this one sentence can change your Life

I was listening to a podcast by one of my favorite Buddhist teachers and afterwards I kept coming back to this one simple line she shared, a quote by Joseph Goldstein.
Even though the talk runs almost an hour I kept focusing on the portion of her topic that had to do with the unpleasant, messy parts of life. The stuff we view as “problems."  And I kept replaying her eye-opening views on how we respond to them.
“How do you react when something difficult arises, a situation that brings up your fear or anger. Maybe something that's happening to your kids?”  She asks me, because at this point it feels like she’s talking directly to me.
She points out my habit of framing things as a problem. And I instantly feel jolted by this idea. I think about my own comfy view of myself as an efficient problem-solver and suddenly I feel exposed; I’m the emperor with no clothes on hiding behind my nice little euphemism.
Because the truth is maybe what I’ve actually become is a really good problem finder.  At times, I'm like that tormented kid from the movie The Sixth Sense, except instead of seeing dead people I have the uncanny ability to see all the bad things that could go wrong in a situation, especially when it comes to my kids.
The thing is---you wouldn't necessarily know this about me at first glance. That's because I've repackaged my worry and attention to details into a prescient talent that's great for managing creative projects and crunching numbers but deep down, I know the truth. I realize this when I’m on my yoga mat and I realize this when I’m meditating. This kind of control is what the Buddhists call suffering.
As I listened to Tara Brach's words, I began to reflect on all the emotional energy I use trying to foresee problems…. trying to prevent problems and fix problems….no wonder I was captivated by Joseph Goldstein’s quote. In fact, I think this little sentence just might change my life:

Do you have a certain vision of how life should be?
Tara Brach explains that if we attach ourselves to a certain vision of how life should be
then when those complicated, unexpected situations arise we will instantly say, “Oh no!  This shouldn’t be happening” and we'll go into “reactive” mode which looks like this: physically we contract, we tense up and mentally we push back on the situation.
But here’s the part that felt new and insightful to me.
If you look closely at these descriptions---you can see how they literally create an experience of smallness—these are reactions that take us into a restricted, ego-centric view of the world that’s clouded by our emotions and our needs. It’s from this limited perspective that we seek to control and resist and do battle with anything that doesn't fit that "ideal" image in our head. What we think should be happening.
Of course this is the opposite of the Buddhist way.
And it’s the opposite of the wise, peaceful, open-hearted life I aspire to live and so I listen intently to Tara Brach describe another way. And I become instantly smitten with her description of our Ocean-ness, that wondrous feeling when our hearts awaken and we’re in touch with the vastness of our Love and our connection to the Universe, our sense of connectedness to God and to each other.
Being in touch with our Ocean-ness may be fleeting for most of us, but our inner wisdom tells us it's the opposite of living small, of being caught inside our ego-driven worlds—where we’re fixated on outcomes and we’re running around trying to control things in order to make life happen in a certain way.

Is there something here that you can relate to? Because I hesitate to continue without stressing this one missing piece.
those old, "automatic" behaviors tell a story
However you relate to this post, it’s important to understand that so many of our behaviors are rooted in our own childhood story. Be compassionate when you think about those behaviors that feel very old and "automatic." Behaviors like these make sense when we slow down and look at our early lives with insight:
  • Your tendency to worry
  • Your role as the caretaker who fixes things,
  • Your need to control
  • Your struggles to let go and trust the process.
When I was writing this post I actually remembered a time when I was kneeling next to a bathtub, worried because my Auntie was crying with her face buried in her knees while she sat in the warm water. I was a little girl and it’s one of those memories that feel magnified---with no other people around—just me and her in that darkened bathroom. Where were my cousins? I wonder even today. I just remember fragments, my Auntie telling my mother what a comfort I was to her, and the heaviness in my chest because I wasn’t sure what to do to make her feel better.
Over months ---as I played with my twin cousins at their house-- I had seen the changes in my beautiful, troubled Auntie. I had watched her body slowly shrink and when I asked her about her new pants I remember she told me that she lost her weight by eating only one bowl of oatmeal a day, a fact that shocked me back then. Boy, I thought, she must really love Neil because she didn't eat like that when she was married to Uncle Brownie.

Even us kids knew about Neil—the married man she loved. I had heard my mom and my grandma talking and I knew it was a bad thing but I had never seen Auntie smile so much. I used to watch her while she stood in front of the mirror that was over her brown dresser. She would be getting ready for work, dressed in her navy and white airline uniform and smacking her lips after she put on her pink lipstick and she looked so glamorous. But that was before. Before something bad happened and I never did know what, but the next thing I remember is feeling so nervous ---like I had a stomach ache except I knew I wasn’t sick –it was because I couldn’t figure out what to do as I sat next to the bathtub. She had called my name , I heard it from the hallway and I had turned the doorknob slowly, unsure about coming inside because well, she was naked in the tub. But that wasn’t so shocking compared to the tears-- I’d never seen Auntie sob so openly, as if I wasn’t even there. In my confusion I looked down at the wet edge of the tub and saw a blue washrag and picked it up. And while she wept I dipped it lightly into the soapy water and moved it to the top of her back. Her black hair was swept up in a loose ball so I could see the line of bumpy bones going down her creamy white back as I wiped her shoulders with the rag.
I have many childhood memories in which I was overly focused on the emotional needs of the adults in my life. Recently I was in a conversation with my 21 year old son talking about my childhood role and it occurred to me that it must be hard for someone who was allowed to be a child in his childhood--- to understand what it would feel like for a child to be parentified, to be put in a situation as a child where you’re running around constantly worried about an adult’s happiness.
I say this without judgment and after having years spent in the therapy field. And the reason I share it here, is to emphasize the need to remain curious and open about your own histories, especially if you’re confused about your present-day behaviors. Maybe as you read along and consider a different way of dealing with life's ups and downs, you might start to think about your own past. Don’t be afraid to look deeper, it’s so liberating to have answers.

 Doing things differently
So let’s talk about doing things differently. 

Throughout this podcast, what I heard Tara Brach emphasize was the importance of our attitude when dealing with difficult situations. She talks about keep an openness about things, and a relaxed, friendly attitude. And we also need to remember two new ideas.
  1. Don’t lock into “This is bad. This shouldn’t be happening."
  2. Remember the magic mantra: “Oh-and-this-too”
The key according to Tara Brach, is not to lock into this is bad, or “this shouldn’t be happening” because the reality is that Life is just being as it is….and she says "we need to realize we can respond intelligently without instantly making others wrong and without creating problems."
Responding with a feeling of openness allows us to re-inhabit the space that's there--the space that exists before we fill it up with fear and anger---and lose contact with our sense of Ocean-ness.
She explains that when you imagine your situation---whether it’s about finances, or a relationship or your job---something that causes you distress and worry, allow yourself to know that yes, it’s unresolved and it’s sticky and yes it’s stressful ….but know that it doesn’t have to be a “problem.” And just deciding that it’s not a problem gives you a little less fixation and a little more space to view your situation.
Instead of tensing up, allow yourself to relax into this idea that Life just is.
There is no ‘right” version or “wrong” version of Life –those versions only exist in our minds and it’s these certain images that cause us to suffer with worry and try to control things but the irony is, when we’re in this kind of "trance," we can’t see the truth.  We can’t see how Life unfolds as a journey, and in this emotional state, it's hard to appreciate that each of us is on our own unique journey that we might not be able to comprehend right now. 
When we let go and see things as they are instead of how we want them to be, we can begin to connect with that feeling of ocean-ness and inner peace.
Yes, we say to ourselves, this (situation) is here ….
Still difficult… still unpleasant, but not a problem.
In fact, what if this (situation) isn't a problem? What then?
Ok, now imagine this. What if your entire approach to worrisome situations began to change and you went around thinking, “oh-and-this-too… it’s just part of life." 
 Doesn’t that just blow your mind? It does mine.
You might even extend this out and scan your life and ask yourself a bolder question. “Who would I be if I didn’t think that anything was a problem?”
And instead of all these "problems" out there, I realized the truth.

It’s just life… happening.

Can you relate to this post?


I'm sharing this post with friends:


Sally Henry said...

Amen. I too had events in childhood that caused me to try to stem the tide of unhappiness in my family. I my 40s I realized that I did not need to do this. Ahh, what an awakening. Good luck to you. Love your blog

Simply LKJ said...

I too was "that" child. The only girl out of 4, the people pleaser, the fixer, the comforter, the "burden" bearer. It took many years, but I learned others problems were not my problems, not mine to fix. And my "problems", well, after looking back over "them", I can now say, "He got me through before, He'll get me through again, and lay them at His feet." I will say however, there are still times I want to pick them back up, still learning.

Pier21cdn said...

OMG can I ever relate! Dealing with a lot of crap, my own, at the moment. Going through withdrawal after being on a pain med for my Fm. I was just at doc's today. I was on the pain medication for almost 10 yrs. Ten years of feeling, drained, tired, disconnected, unable to do what I used to enjoy, a zombie. Our childhoods could be mirrors of each others. I was the youngest, kept my cool while the adults were falling apart around me. So very tired of dragging that bag of crap around. The responsible one, the one that had it all together. Perhaps the baggage has made me sick (FM), but I realize I did. Thanking for sharing your enlightenment. I seriously need to learn the message, read this again. I will look for her online. Let the humbleness begin. Getting off the pain meds is a challenge enough for now but there is so much more to learn once the head clears. It's a real crap parade and no one to sweep up after it but me. Thanks so very much for this post, I really needed it! xo

Karen said...

I recently read something that I've downloaded as a Podcast to listen to and it follows some of the thoughts conveyed here. As a positive person it was interesting to me to think that we can let some of the stress and "borrowed trouble" go with some mindful thinking. I want to listen to my podcast for more on this topic. I believe that we all have built situations up in our minds before they actually unfolded. I appreciate this post and it will prompt me to make time to listen to more on this subject.

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

Oh my goodness, as I read this I felt as if you were writing my story! In fact, last night I could not sleep and I was pondering my "role" in life...the caregiver, the fixer, the one who is always there for everyone, family, friends, strangers etc. not only with emotional support, but always making sure everyone is happy, has the best gifts, cards to make them feel better etc...all at the expanse of myself.

After life changing events in 2014 I am no longer that person, not only because I do not have the energy to care for myself as well as them, but also because I realize it probably didn't matter to all those people snyway.

I am changed, mostly for the good but just different. Most importantly I realize that I am important, not only as but more than all of the people I put before me.

Thank you for your kind words about my post, although I am a changed person, I am still I believe very compassionate and my inlaws are really weighing on me.

Have a great weekend Leslie.

Thank you for ALWAYS making me think when I come here and for helping me become a better me!

Art and Sand said...

I'm the one in my family who talks everyone down from their worries. I think it comes from my childhood when I was encouraged to ignore anything bad and just act as if everything was fine. My parents never once had an argument when I was a child. Everyone just acted as if things were fine no matter what was going on. And oddly enough, everything turned out fine.

Jeanne Henriques said...

You know how much I LOVE when you write your heartfelt posts Leslie...your words always resonate and it leaves me thinking...deeply. All sorts of worrisome moments came to mind and I breathed a little bit deeper and let it out a little bit longer, always a good feeling. You write beautifully Leslie, the imagery behind your words when you wrote about your aunt was touching. Best wishes from Saigon and thank you for sharing. xx

Tamera Beardsley said...

Leslie this hit so close to home for me … it took me so long to finish reading … as I had to quit reading so many times due to the flood of tears. I couldn't agree more with this idea … of life being Life. I even go so far during 'life situations' … to ask myself what is it that i am meant to learn. But today I really needed this reminder.

My estranged son has come home literally while he looks for a new job here in SoCal. We have done very well this last month … but I have been living with such fear of … basically everything … I have made myself sick. Everyday riding the roller coaster of his job search. He has found a great one now … and still I have been so tense … hoping to 'make it' … until he once again moves out. Your wonderful post … has reminded me to relax …it is what it is … and I with effort … connect to my 'oceanness". With your reminder … I can relax and know it will all be OK … no matter the outcome … as long as I meet life with loving intent.

Thank you so much my dear … for taking the time to do such a profound post. Isn't it just something … our ability to put soulful thoughts out 'here' … and not know whose soul needs to hear what we have to say. I really, really needed this today.

I send you much love my dear! I do feel we need to meet up again for coffee … and truly catch up on our lives.


Preppy Empty Nester said...

Fabulous positive post, Leslie. I can identify - I am a compulsive worrier. You're a beautiful writer and this post really hit home for me. I also sent your link to a couple of my non-blogging buddies. Have a good weekend.

Stacey said...

Oh my. I'm right there with you looking for things to worry about. A friend of mine asked the other day if I ever wake up in the morning and wonder what I need to worry about that day. The answer is a resounding YES! Our sons are 24 and 26...I drive them crazy! The part that you wrote about worry being egocentric and part of small thinking really is true! We all tend to see things from our very own perspective but I guess those of us who worry take that to extreme. I'm going to work on it. Thanks for this and thanks for sharing with Thoughts of Home on Thursday.

Posting to my Encouragement Pinterest board. :)

Laura said...

I don't know where to start.
First of all, yes to everything you asked.
I have every worry /controlling symptom you mentioned.
Secondly, I NEVER knew to consider how these behaviors in me began- I was too busy feeling them/preventing them/correcting them to wonder.
And then there is the martyrdom that happens as a result.
Third, I didn't realize my worry and control of EVERYTHING ( whether it is my husband's Parkinson's and its newest symptoms, or my adult daughters' lives, or fill in the blank with whatever comes by way) is my 'suffering'- I am blown away.
Can you tell?

Oh Leslie...this is good...very, very good.

Kim said...

I'm a worrier and so much of this post spoke to me today. Thank you.

Turn The Page said...

A great post! With so much to do in the daily routine of our busy-ness, it is important to be mindful of the present. And give thanks. Aloha. Visiting here from Poofing the Pillows.


Calypso In The Country said...

I read this post the other day but didn't have a chance to comment so now I just read it again. You always blow me away with your beautiful writing and your explanation of feelings that so many of us feel. I am a constant worrier. And I do get caught up thinking how things "should" be all the time. I will have to remind myself that it is "just life happening" as you said. I have learned to let go about little things over the years by keeping myself busy when these worries creep into my head. I haven't been able to control my worries about my kids or our health though. The only good that comes out of all these worries is the way that I completely appreciate everything. There is not a day that goes by that I take anything for granted. But I would much rather be able to be grateful all the time without all those worries creeping up! Lots to think about. Thanks for writing this and being such an inspiration!

Have a Daily Cup of Mrs. Olson said...

I feel lucky to have been blessed with an easy going attitude. I think it came from my dear mother. Never saw her get angry, stressed, or lose it. I love the movie, "The Best Little Marigold Hotel" because of the quote the boy used so often. He said, "It will be alright in the end. If it's not alright, it isn't the end." I truly believe that God has our best interest at heart and things do have a way of working out. I am not a worrier. Stressing over it certainly doesn't help. Easier said than done for many! Thanks for sharing this great post with SYC.

JoanMarie said...

Hello Leslie - having found your blog by sheer coincidence, I truly believe things happen for a reason. Just today at work I was given a ultimatum about my current role and immediately went into anger, panic, and confused mode. I did not lose my job, just the opposite, I was given a much wider territory which inside scared the daylights out of me and it became a "problem". A HUGE problem. Having come home, slowly digesting this new information and sharing my frustrations/nerves/anger, I calmed down and found you as I took a time out to "escape". In a recent blog post I wrote I shared how important it is to make a difference or an impression on just one person. Get them to "think" and if your words reach and affect just one person, mission accomplished. You, my friend, have succeeded on all levels and I love the words and quotes you have shared. My heart suddenly feels braver and more at peace with the situation. I thank you beyond words.

michele said...

ahhhhhh. yes. stepping into a non-dual thinking mode and letting go of judgment and criticism is so key to growing on this journey, isn't it? not good/bad, black/white, light/dark, but welcoming the word AND. recognizing the there is a third and fourth way. knowing pain is the best teacher. for lent, i gave up the little worrying about the future thing i do at night as i fall to sleep. it had actually become a sort of self-soother if you can believe it. i substituted the Jesus prayer and it's been a challenge to stay consistent. i keep catching myself falling into the habit. but i have learned lent is not about proving my virtue to God but rather revealing self to my self. very humbling stuff. if i had known how many growing pains would arise from this journey i began in june, i may have shied away, but no turning back now! peace to you, wise blogger.

Willow said...

Problem is opportunity.

September Violets said...

This all connected with me as well. I tend to fret and worry over things until the "problem" has worked itself out and I can rest again. I hate worrying though. It's usually about my kids and how they are managing (one in last year of university, one in last year of high school). But as I get older, I try to put everything into proper perspective. I have come to realize that parents have gone through this worrisome time (Will they get a job after graduation? Will their marks improve enough to get through this course?) for years and years before me. I need to realize that it will all work out in the end, and it will all work out whether I'm making myself sick with worry or not. But it is difficult sometimes to stop our old habits. One notion has been surfacing everywhere I look in the last few weeks. It is the notion to look for and be grateful for the small beautiful and happy things that we witness every day. Focusing on the beautiful every day can surely bring a more positive feeling in our hearts and minds. So today, after listening to my son's teachers at teacher interviews last night both rave over him and despair over him in equal turns, I can watch him walk off to school and be happy and thankful that he is a good kid. One teacher said he has a wicked sense of humour and makes her laugh ... I'll hang onto that happy thought instead of worrying about his grades! He really is a good kid who shared a funny story as he was walking out the door saying how badly his winter boots squeak on the school floors and playing out different scenarios of how he gets from the front door to his locker without drawing attention to his squeaky boots ... we were both laughing when he left (love that).

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

This is such a thoughtful, insightful post, Leslie! I've been thinking about it for awhile now. Maybe it's just me, but I find as we age we often come into this way of thinking. OH to learn it when you are young! We begin to realize not to worry quite so much...this too shall pass. I have gone through enough hard things in life that I realize it really is just life happening. It may not make it any easier to handle, but you realize that life is happening for everyone, and you aren't being singled out. I still do worry about the big stuff (like my kids' health issues), because while it's life's still big stuff. But there comes a peaceful acceptance about realizing you can't always change things, as much as you might want to.
You always make me examine my way of thinking, for the better, Leslie! xo

C-ingspots said...

Oh my gosh, such truth in this post. I was not that child. But early adulthood with an alcoholic husband had me always being the responsible one, the caretaker, the fixer of everything, the solution-finder, the excuse maker, etc etc etc. It has changed me, and is so difficult to evolve into a person who is much more accepting of life and just learning to "be". Love this. Thanks

kitty@ Kitty's Kozy Kitchen said...

Wow, I think you wrote this post just for me! Yes, I'm a worrier, a try-to- be peacemaker, and fixer, but I realize that I can't do it. Since my beloved past away two and a half years ago, my family has fractured. Maybe I should take the weight off my back, and realize that it's just life?? I truly wish I could, but it's always in the back of my mind. Thank you for sharing and giving me lots to read and think about.

cindy hattersley design said...

Leslie this post touched me in so many ways that I cannot express in public. I have had a life changing experience very recently. This post gave me a lot of comfort. You have a gift.

Lori said...

Wow ~ are you sure you did not write this for me? I can relate... xo

Anonymous said...

Every time I land here, it's like a little vacation for well being.
Have a blessed weekend, Leslie!
~ w/L

Laura said...

Leslie- I featured this post at our Thoughts of Home on Thursday .
It really resonated with me , and I know it will with others.

White Spray Paint

Nancy said...

hi! thanks for your kind comment on my blog. i'm so glad you did because now i'm here and have added you to my blog roll :) this is so me. the thing you do, finding problems...I do that too! i'm taking a class now with brene brown called courage works...long story, but in her book daring greatly (one of the books of the course) she actually identifies it as "foreboding joy". yes! there's a name for it and i was so blown away by this because i always felt it was just me that did it. nope. not at all it turns out. its a form of self preservation, an armor or defense mechanism bc when we're joyful and content our heart is vulnerable and open right? so our minds do this worry thing bc we feel too vulnerable and we're practicing how to survive, dress rehearsing tragedy so that we wont be caught off guard. sorry to leave such a long comment...just wanted to say me too :) i love this post! beautifully written!

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