My mind has not always been my friend.
In fact, until quite recently (within the last couple of years) I often felt my mind hated me.
Listening to the inner stream of meanness, I would sometime fantasize about how peaceful my life might become if I could just take my mind out back and shoot it between the eyeballs.
No more mind…..no more pain.
Interestingly, as I have worked more with my mind over the last couple of years through meditation, contemplation, and study, I am finding ever more confirmation that I am on the right track with my efforts to quiet my mind.
In fact, recently I read an article that lined it out in stark black and white (and I paraphrase):
A mind “crowded with thoughts” is a weak mind. A mind free from thoughts is an “extremely strong” mind.
In the last few months I have at times felt overwhelmed by the number of prayer requests making their way into my life.
Many of these prayer requests have been quite specific, too – for healing, for safe travels, for comfort after breakup or loss, for successful adoption, for a cure…..
It also feels important to mention I’m not just talking about folks I know only through Facebook….I’m talking about people who are so close to me that imagining life without them kind of feels like imagining life without breathing.
In other words….not good.
Of course, being the type-AAA personality that I am, I have eagerly leaped at each and every prayer request, taking my commitment to offer up such prayers as I can manage to compose quite seriously.
I mean, a person can’t just say they will pray and then not do it. That is like lying to God (a lose-lose situation no matter how you slice it).
Plus, it is highly comforting to ask someone I care for who is struggling, “What can I do to help?” and receive specific and detailed instructions.
Yet when it comes to handling prayer requests, this doesn’t always sit well deep down inside.
Not everyone is a “dreamer.”
However, I am.
What I mean is, I have always had exceptionally vivid dreams. In fact, sometimes the dream-me can pack in several different dreams in a single night.
Often (and increasingly as I get older) I also have repetitive dreams.
While I do realize here that scientists are moving ever closer to understanding the possible biological nature of the human dreamscape, they are not moving quite fast enough for my liking.
So instead of continuing to wait, I have chosen to adopt a different strategy for dealing with my dream life, and especially for dealing with repetitive dreams, and most especially for dealing with repetitive disturbing dreams.
I’ll give you one example of a repetitive disturbing dream I am having frequently right now:
I am back in my anorexic years. My family life is in shambles. My folks and I are at continual loggerheads. I want to die and I also want to live, and I have no idea how to accomplish either. I wake either right before or right after my parents and I have the “argument to end all arguments” and I am leaving the house with nowhere else to go.
That is the dream, in a nutshell. I’ve already had it two nights this week alone.
About a month ago, I acted upon a long-delayed dream.
I became Mommy to a hatchling red-foot tortoise named Malti.
Malti is an Indian girl’s name that means “small fragrant jasmine flower.”
She is very small indeed (3″ from nose to tail tip).
Her fragrance comes in the form of trust.
Even as I type, she is sleeping off her lunch in a mossy corner of her new habitat – totally trusting that her every need will be provided for…..by me.
I, on the other hand, am cramming on YouTube like only a newbie turtle mommy can, ever hopeful of keeping this baby alive for one more day.
We are making a lot of progress, Malti and I, but I have to give her most of the credit.
Years ago one of my mentors told me it takes great strength to be happy.
At the time she said this, I was very intrigued…..and also very unhappy.
I also stayed very unhappy for a great many years afterwards.
But I never forgot her words.
They compelled me to periodically confront the unhappiness within me, like a journalist intent upon exposing the presence and mechanics of a long-running and very successful scam.
I wanted to know everything about my unhappiness.
In this way, questions like these became a standard part of my daily inner dialogue.
Out of this ongoing questioning process, these two key facts have become my most trusted navigators.
From here, my search for the inner strength to experience happiness has become fueled by a surprisingly simple daily practice.
I have a tendency to hold on too tightly.
My particular problem isn’t with things, per se, but rather with situations or outcomes.
From an early (oh so early) age, I was raised to set goals.
Along with goal-setting came the instruction to create a plan to achieve those goals.
So basically, I was supposed to set my goals – preferably as far in advance as possible – and then create a step-by-step plan to achieve those goals.
If I had been sports-minded, this might have been called “keeping my eye on the ball.”
The only trouble was, I was so busy keeping my eye on that. particular. ball. I failed to see any and all warning signs, obstacles, even helpful hints or shortcuts in my path.
And if a better-looking, more suitable ball were to come along, well forget it.
It was that. particular. ball. or no ball at all.
(By now you are probably beginning to perceive the issue.)
Lately a series of circumstances has invited (forced) me to take another look at whether the time-honored personal practice of setting-planning-and-achieving-specific-goals-in-advance is really a way of life I wish to continue.
Questions I’ve been asking myself include these:
My answers (thus far) are no, no, no, no, yes, yes, and “see the definition of insanity.”
I have always been fascinated by this question.
With some of my friends, we can go for years without connecting. Yet, when we do come back together, it feels like no time has passed.
With other friends, however, the process is much less organic. There seem to be inbuilt “requirements” – which I sometimes feel I should be sensing without needing to be told….yet don’t.
With these friendships, perhaps those requirements might include how often we talk to or see one another, what we do or where we go, or how quickly we respond back to one another when one of us has reached out.
Or the requirements could fall more along the lines of willingly aligning (or changing if need be) our beliefs, expressing agreement with one another without question, or knowing exactly what type of support to offer in different situations.
Interestingly – for me at least – in the first type of friendship (the organic kind) all of these requirements are a non-issue. What needs to take place takes place. What doesn’t need to take place doesn’t take place. Each of us is self-reliant and self-sufficient, but mutually appreciative of the chance to enjoy friendship when the time is right.
In the second type of friendship (the non-organic kind) each requirement needs to be spelled out – either because there is no congruent inner “sensing” of the friendship’s natural ebb and flow – or because, with these friendships, there actually is no natural ebb and flow. As a result, the friendship itself feels more manufactured, awkward, effort-full, and much less satisfying.
“What will people think?”
Suddenly I feel like I am bumping into this issue all over my life.
From the television shows and movies I watch to the magazine articles I read….to family disputes and conversations with friends….
To be honest, some days I wonder if this concern – even more than the drive to earn or the desire to connect – literally runs our world.
People kill, steal, yell, hide, run, lie, choose a profession, choose a mate, choose a home or a car, dress a certain way, adopt particular hobbies, make decisions, and even literally change everything about their lives and themselves in an effort to control what other people think.
One area where this crops up frequently for me personally is with recovery matters. In running MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders mentoring nonprofit I founded in 2009, I still read through hundreds of membership applications each year.
Many applicants cite concerns about privacy and confidentiality – citing as their reason a concern about being judged by family, friends, or peers for having an eating disorder or needing recovery support.
Some applicants even apply under a pseudonym because of this concern – “what will people think?”
Another area where this issue of what people might think crops up is with faith and spirituality. Luckily, in my family, we were raised to be open-minded, respectful towards, and accepting of other faiths and other belief systems.
But not everyone opts for this approach.
Last week, in a post called “The Discomfort of Happiness,” I shared some recent experiences I’ve had around feeling happy.
Then (in what always proves to be a gutsy move in hindsight) I shared the post with my longtime mentor.
Her very first question to me was to ask why I had chosen the word “happiness” instead of “joy.”
It’s not like I hadn’t foreseen that question coming – I was just so delighted to be progressing from “uncomfortable unhappiness” to “uncomfortable happiness” that I hadn’t bothered to wonder much about it.
But once your mentor asks you a question on the very topic you’ve decided you don’t need to contemplate yet, you know the moment has arrived to contemplate it.
I won’t lie.
From time to time, I have been known to overanalyze things.
However, after more than a few months of sincere and wondering analysis, I have to say I truly think I’m reading this one right.
You see, lately I’ve been, well, happy.
Someone very dear and important to me has come back into my life, and as we’ve been sharing our day-to-days, those days have been some of the best I’ve had.
And don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about days filled with diamonds and roses. I’m talking about days filled with yard work and grocery shopping.
Imagine the most mundane daily activities you can think of. Then add more. That is exactly the kind of happy day I’ve been enjoying lately in the company of this other person.
So this is great, right? I’m H.A.P.P.Y.
But here is the problem. You see, I’m now starting to think I’ve been so happy that I’ve been….unhappy.
For instance, sometimes when I notice I feel happy, that brings up waves of free-range discomfort – sort of a cross between anxiety, stress, irritation, and indigestion.
At other times, on the heels of noticing my happy-feelings, what follows is almost like depression – a sort of unwelcome slowing down of time, filled with fairly equal parts doom and dread.