That soup I made last week to help us get over the flu didn’t quiiiiiiiiiiiite do the trick. Of course, nourishment of any kind eases the pain, but even though I was physically sick (and still kind of am), I had other things going on that I had to take a minute to figure out.
I am the worst worrier. Well, maybe not the worst — I’m not sure that I am in the same league as say, my grandmother, but I can work up a froth with the best of them, rubbing my hands together and pacing around, making non-productive to-do lists, and ending up in a tearful, figurative or sometimes even literal frenzy. It sucks and I hate it.
There are some things that hypervigilance helps along in life — I’m hardly ever late on a deadline, I’m ultra-prepared, and I’m great in a crisis, but there are times when that mindset makes life harder for me than it should be. I’ve described what it’s like as going out and getting all the things that might or might not happen 5, 10, 20 years from now and gathering them around me like little precious jewels that I fixate on, count, touch, push away, then bring close again so that I can fixate, count, touch, etc. — it’s crazy. But it’s me. It’s my nature.
I have to get John Henry’s summer team together… is it all going to work out okay… where is his Anne Sullivan… have I updated his 2019-2020 binder… am I going to oversleep on Friday and miss my 545am flight to NYC to go get him.. What will I do if I do… I have to make sure I don’t say no to any opportunity because saying no makes people go away and even though my calendar looks like hell and I have another book to finish I still have to say yes… to everything… When am I going to have time to… when am I going to get to…. I want to make 100 white linen birds for this year’s Christmas tree… I haven’t made time to finish that skirt I’ve been working on since August… What about the to-be-read stack I’m going to die under-read and ignorant… I need to go visit my family in Alabama and the clock is ticking… how is my sister… how are my friends that I haven’t gotten in touch with in too long… how am I going to turn in this book by the end of September… can I even do it again… I’m a fool, I shouldn’t have said that I’ll be able to do it again… Is my baby okay today… Am I doing enough and pulling my weight in my marriage…
I know how I got that way — I’m the same person who once forgot to take her math book home from school and realized it at about 9:30pm, after I’d gotten in bed, and tearfully called out for my Mama to tell her what I’d done. She was able to talk me down from the ledge and convince me that it would all be okay and that I’d probably have time to do it in the morning after I got to school and before the first bell rang, but I was gutted that I’d forgotten something. It felt like the end of the world. It’s that attention to detail and making sure I do everything “right” — crossing every T and dotting every I to the absolute best of my ability — that gets me through without completely failing but also makes the not failing less enjoyable than I suspect it could be. It’s exhausting.
It’s because of this tendency that I’ve been working for years on letting go, on trusting, on being in the moment and trying to enjoy each one as it comes and goes. We are never guaranteed another one past the one we’re in. I know that in my mind and my heart. But my body cannot grasp the notion of presence past a nominal, grudging “I know, but…” I realize that I have a lot of fear lodged inside me. We can really get trauma stuck inside of us and if you don’t believe that, try getting triggered and ignoring how your center feels. It will stomp its foot and cry out for attention. Maybe it’s during the times when I’m more physically vulnerable that I feel it all rise up in me the most. When I experience a loss of control over what my body is doing from being sick, tired, sleep deprived, whatever it is, I feel the lack of control over everything else and my list of worries becomes a licentious loop, playing inside my head, taunting me with visions of utter failure.
Now, I know it’s all cuckoo. But knowing it’s cuckoo doesn’t really help me not get into such a fix and it doesn’t really help me out of it except that after a certain point, usually when I’m in tears and realize that I’ve put myself there all on my own, I beg for help. It’s usually in the form of a prayer. Last week’s was a simple one: “Please, God, take this worry from me.”
Through that mindful, centered prayer, I began to feel a loosening. Through the activities that my dreaded hypervigilance drove me toward, I began to feel the ducks start to line up. It’s not all bad, this tendency to get too worked up over things, it can actually produce a result that not worrying over every last detail cannot, but it’s excruciating to get there in the way that I do it. And I’m just going to call myself out and say I need to get better at realizing that I’ve never let myself be an utter failure and that I am also not Atlas, holding the world up on my shoulders by myself. That’s hard to see in the moment. But what isn’t hard to see today, because I am somewhat better, is how much I need to get control over my control issues. Seems to me that I need to pray more, because that prayer I prayed last week was an admission of the fact that I am not able to be, nor should I be able to be, superhuman. How that notion got in my brain is easily traceable. But just because it is easily traceable, just because I can point to this or that thing and step back and say hmmm… makes it no less crazy.
The art of centering prayer, as I understand it so far (I’m reading this book by Cynthia Bourgeault, is about letting go of every thought as it comes up. It’s even simpler than what we know of meditation because there is no focal point, no mantra, no thought to keep in the head. It’s the absence of all of those things and learning how to drop anything that comes across the field of vision. It’s about emptying, I think. Emptying the brain of the endless loop of thoughts, concerns, shoulds and shouldn’ts, and just being without the heaviness of it all because you’re giving it up. Those of you who have read my thoughts know that I am not someone who leans on any dogma or set of rules and that I prefer to instead appreciate it all and take what I can use or that seems plausible or practical, because what I do understand is that most religions are built around the same thing, which is peace and love. I’m down with that. And what I’m also down with is a way for us all to get relief. Whatever gets you through the night I guess, thanks John Lennon.
I am getting through my nights a little bit better than I was last week. For that I am thankful. Wherever you are, I hope that your mind is at ease and that your worries are few.
Peace and love, and happy Wednesday,