I don’t recommend planning to go for a long walk at a location which is 20 minutes away from your home after drinking two cups of coffee. I learned my lesson today yet I’m sure I’ll do it again. The experience is kind of like a meditation, a mindfulness exercise and practice of emotional resilience all at once. You know you have to go pee and you try your best not to focus on it. But no matter what you tell yourself, what mental tricks you employ, your mind keeps going back to the fact that you have to go pee.
You drove out 20 minutes to get here, so you’re not about to turn around to go back without walking as you intended, so you exit your car and walk anyway. You start imagining that you wish you were your dog so you could pee anywhere. You begin to wonder which of the fancy houses have a big enough bush to hide you as you do your business. But to no avail. You are not a dog and there are no close locations at which you can relieve yourself.
You tell yourself it will be ten minutes and then you will turn around, go back to your car, go home and then do what needs to be done. You get to the turnaround point and stop for a minute to take in the beauty of the ocean. Then, all of a sudden, you notice a little, hidden pathway which leads down from the cliffs to a more secluded and private location. Because you never meditate, you think it might be nice to try.
By the time you get down to the sandy cliffside and find a flat area to sit on, you have successfully distracted your mind from focusing on what is going on physically. You close your eyes and peek out every two minutes to see if your dog is okay. Three more minutes later and you’re done with your meditation practice. You look at the blue ocean with waves crashing to the side far down below.
Dogs are Zen Masters
Your dog starts to whine. You tell yourself that he has no idea what meditation is. He doesn’t want to stay in your lap and he is restless. The whining is more of a light whimper. He stops when you pet him but you don’t feel like giving him your undivided attention. Eventually, you get cold from the breeze and you’re fed up with your restless dog, so you head towards your car.
As soon as your dog gets in the car, he settles down completely. You realize you have raised an indoor dog: a spoiled indoor dog who only likes to sit on soft blankets. Once he is on a blanket, he is like a Zen master, completely calm and relaxed. He is an apartment dog who has to hold his pee for nine hours during the day while you are away at work. You know that both of you should be spending more time outdoors and probably getting more exercise, but you dismiss taking any action because the couch is just too comfortable and familiar.
All this while you still have to pee, but you have started to compose the blog about this experience in your mind. If you don’t write down the first few sentences immediately, you will be repeating them nonstop in your mind for the next 20 minutes in order to not forget them. Google voice would be a faster way of getting these thoughts typed out but you resort to the “old-fashioned” Swype function on your Android phone. You decide to be nice to yourself on the way home, because of the physical discomfort. So instead of listening to Peter Levine’s book on trauma in German, of which you only understand fifty percent anyway, you put on your favourite Pandora Radio station and start driving.
By the time you get home, going pee seems like an inconvenience because all you want to do is sit at your computer and finish typing up this blog whose subsequent sentences have been circulating in your mind for the past 20-minute drive. As soon as you relieve yourself, you realize that it wasn’t that bad after all; that this whole big deal you’ve been making of needing to go pee for the last hour was all in your mind.
You exhale at the realization that maybe this pee thing, this blog thing, isn’t that important after all. After all, it’s all in your mind. You have started to become hungry because breakfast was a few hours ago and you decide to make a nice salad for lunch and deal with writing later. Once all of your physical needs have been taken care of, only then can you find peace in writing.
How This Applies to You
We all do this to ourselves. Whether it’s the next big presentation at work or in class or the thought of making dinner for your family in the evening. We make up in our minds that it is such a big deal, and then when the moment comes and those thoughts go into action, we realize it’s not that bad after all. Let this be a lesson learned to monitor the stories I tell myself about the things I do in my life. If there is stress, that is because I am causing that stress, even if it is prompted by an outside factor. It’s all about my perspective.
Being overwhelmed at work doesn’t have to be so overwhelming when you realize you are just one person and there’s only so much you can do that is humanly possible. You need to accept the fact that you will always feel like you are behind because there is never enough time in one day. It’s like Mischel’s marshmallow experiment: you need to find ways to distract yourself from focusing intensely on the issue at hand because if you focus on it too much it will drive you crazy.
You Have the Power
Just as I found ways to occupy my mind as much as possible during the hour that I really had to pee, you can find ways to direct your energy to things that are productive and not harmful. If you are having an intense moment of suicidal ideation, try to remind yourself that this is temporary and it too, shall pass. Use your distraction techniques and remember, life doesn’t have to be that bad after all. There are some good things about life, and that good is within you.