One morning a week, I take a brisk walk to a public patch of mini roses growing wild on the roadside. The heady aroma and tiny bundle I bring home makes this a favorite ritual. Over the last months, however, this gift to myself has become something else.
At the stop sign just beyond the rosebushes, a line of cars wait to cross. I avert my gaze to avoid the hot plunge of regret that comes when I spot the decals on each bumper. The trick hardly works—I know they are there. This street leads to the lovely little school where my son was kicked out a few months back. I blame myself for letting it happen.
Making fresh anguish from old news does me no good, especially now. Covid finally caught up with my husband and he feels like hot garbage. I am standing at the door of an alarming diagnosis. Our house is in lockdown with dishes and laundry piling up. All just for me.
It wasn’t so many years ago that I’d wake up to a feeling of dread every day. Then, I’d match the feeling with a thought about what I had done wrong or what bad thing someone had done to me. Next, I tried to go back and fix it in my head. Shockingly, it never worked. After a huge shift in mindset, I don’t do this to myself anymore. It has changed everything.
I now have tools to weed out painful thoughts when they spring up. If you spend time ruminating over the past or obsessing about the future, I’ll share what helped me this week.
Waking up in the morning, I get in front of the uneasy realization that I have some STUFF going on right now. I intentionally take over the self-talk before it begins. Instead of allowing my mind to default to worry, I play a positive mantra over and over. My simple favorite is, I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay.
That may sound looney, but trust that I am training my brain to spend more time on the right side, i.e., the peaceful, creative side, not the fight or flight left side. I won’t ruin the present moment with angsty thoughts about the past or future. These days, meditation, exercise and a gratitude practice ensure a positive start to the day. If worry pops in, deep breathing and a mindfulness exercise put me back in my body. It works.
Last night during dinner prep, I wondered why I blamed myself for my son’s predicament. As I chopped broccoli flourettes, Oprah and Michael Singer’s May 11, 2022, podcast interview played in the background. They discussed his new book, Living Untethered. He says the only time we are bothered by what other people do is when it triggers old pain we haven’t let go of inside ourselves.
That rang true with my son. When the school so easily tossed him out, I felt deeply wounded. Definitely more than the situation warranted. It brought back the rejection I had experienced at his age. Back then, I blamed myself. Kids naturally make themselves wrong as a survival skill. Blaming the adults is far too dangerous territory. Now that I am an adult, I realize that attempting to controlling my environment or other people is impossible–even making the attempt brings me misery.
Singer teaches the only way to get past this is to make a regular practice of letting go. By doing so, we find our way back to our true self—the part of us who is always calm, despite the storms.
“Letting things go” didn’t make sense to me for a long time. It sounded like somehow agreeing that what had happened to me was nothing so I should just forget about it. Let everyone who had failed me off the hook. As if.
Now I understand that holding onto a painful past ruins the present. Right at this moment, I feel like the scary unknown of my health is allowing me to release old pain I never felt safe enough to process. At times, I am suddenly gripped by sadness. Instead of pushing it away, I let myself cry. I have Pearl Jam and carpool to thank for stirring that ancient pot of emotion. I will let it go, one teary-eyed post-drop off at a time.
Singer had a few gold nuggets that I will take with me on this unfamiliar road. When thoughts that fight with reality come in, I will consciously correct them. This shouldn’t be happening to me. I am so healthy, WTF. Who should it happen to then? Illness happens. We trust our caregivers and we get through it.
As for my son, I didn’t have it in me to spare him the consequences of his actions. An older, bigger boy hit him and ran off. My son found him and hit him back. Only one kid was punished. It wasn’t fair. But just like the mother hen who won’t help her baby chick poke his way out of the shell because it may kill him, I resisted the urge to fix it. Giving him the false belief that when life treats him unfairly, his mother will solve the problem won’t serve him now or ever. If he belonged at that school, he’d still be there.
The next time I take my rose walk, I will run a positive mantra in my head and not leave any space for regret to take root. It will be something like this: I am meant to live in peace. Everything is exactly as it should be. My son is on the path that is meant for him. And I am too.
When you intentionally fill your mind with peaceful thoughts, you will cultivate a beautiful life.
WRITING PROMPTS: What helps you keep cool during stressful times? How does spirituality play a role if at all?
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