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Words I'm Reading
  • Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist
    Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing from America's Favorite Humorist

Words I Just Finished Reading

The Kitchen House
The Atomic Weight of Love
We're All Damaged
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Wishful Drinking
News of the World
The Forgotten Garden
Out of My Mind
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
Delicious!
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
My Not So Perfect Life
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Overseas
Moranifesto
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Anna and the French Kiss
Little Bee


Julie's favorite books »

Friday
Dec142018

Lay it Down

I think I may be a worrier. 

This is a recent thought, as I’ve always considered myself a reasonable, practical person.  Sure, I had a tendency to be hyper-aware and would often find myself picturing worst-case scenarios and playing those out in my head, but that didn’t strike me as particularly troublesome.  You’re not a worrier, Julie!  You’re just very aware of every possible thing that could go wrong in any given situation.  You’re an expert at predicting possible disasters and playing them out to their logical awful end.  Who would call that worry?

A lot of people, apparently.

And if it’s true that my energy flows where my attention goes, then I’ve been spending a lot of energy on imaginary predictions of doom.  The first step was noticing it (oh, look, I’m catastrophizing)!  The second was figuring out how to stop, which was significantly more challenging, because my brain would insist that those things could happen.  Was it likely that my slightly infected finger wound was actually brought on by a rare, untreatable flesh-eating bacteria?  No, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t happen.  This kind of thinking, shockingly, can be draining and stressful.  And I finally stumbled upon a new thought about the worry: lay it down. 

These turned out to be the right words for me: lay it down.  Take the worry, give it a nod, and carefully lay it down.  You can always go back to it if you need to.  (And it turns out you probably won’t).

In the coming year, I’m going to lay it down.  Place each worry at the side of the path, like a marker.  And as I do, I will create a breadcrumb trail of faithfulness.  I can walk forward and then look back and see all the worry, the fear, the lies: I’ll see all that I refused to carry.  Instead, I’ll find my hands to be full of the better things: of gratitude and peace and joy and love.   

And because it’s felt so lovely and freeing and open, I’m interested in what else can go.  Here’s my current list: what I’m giving up for 2019. 

1.     Indulging worry (see above reference to flesh-eating bacteria).

2.     Ironing Mando’s shirts. 

For a while I was ironing his casual shirts but I’m over it.  I would rather be reading.

3.     Insisting on finishing books.

If I hate it, I’m moving on.  I recently ditched two books and felt really good about it.

4.     Judging the Feels.

This is the big one.  I am a person who likes to achieve, who thrives on doing well; I want to feel capable and strong.  When I am unable to perform to this standard (which is approximately one hundred percent of the time), I hop on the aforementioned worry train and embrace my shortcomings as the first step on the path to the straitjacket.  But I just finished a book that is helping me change my thinking (it's about women's sexuality, but the explanations of brain function and emotions are some of the best I've ever read).  The author introduces the idea of meta-emotions: it’s not how you feel; it’s about how you feel about how you feel.  This is revolutionary to me.  The author describes how our mind and emotions are best pictured as a flock of birds.  Our identity – our self, as we understand it – consists of competing motivations, roles, feelings, and needs.  So, for example, if one bird in the flock senses a predator, it flies away.  And if you’re a worrier you may be tempted to pull that bird back, and fast, because what if the bird goes rogue and never comes back?  What if all the birds head out?  But nonjudging requires that I allow that bird to fly away from the predator, trusting that the system will work.  

“Once the birds have escaped from the predator (or noticed spontaneously that there is no predator after all), they’ll transition back to flying toward the magnetic pole along with their neighbors.  But if you don’t allow them to fly away – if you say to yourself, “I shouldn’t have that feeling,” and slam on the brake – that’s like trying to cage the birds who are trying to escape.  And how will those birds react?  They’ll freak out, batter themselves against the bars, desperate to escape both the predator and the cage.  Allow them to escape and trust that they’ll rejoin the flock.”

The biggest example in my life centers around Mando’s travel.  What a gift that after all these years together, I still miss him when he’s gone.  Although it’s not entirely negative, travel carries an emotional cost.  It brings a lot of feelings and stress: I miss him, kids are cray-cray, and life is unpredictable.  Instead of accepting this, instead of being terribly gentle with myself, instead of letting the bird go and trusting it will return, I was judging those Feels.  I was convinced I should be stronger.  I was feeling badly about how I was feeling.  But as I have begun to allow those feelings to complete their cycle, I find I come to the other side of it with more grace, more perspective, more integration.  I can trust that the birds will do what they’re designed to do.  Watching the birds is turning out to be far more relaxing than chasing them.   

5.     Wondering whether I’m Doing It Right. 

Oh, this is one to lay down, because this is It.  Life is happening, and I’m just who I’m meant to be right now (and so are you).  Discovering shadow sides of my who I am isn’t an indictment; it’s an invitation.  If I learn them, then I can embrace the light sides of those traits: I pay attention, I care, I love, I’m imperfect.  These are my gifts; these are your gifts.  We belong.  We're enough.     

This year, I’m going to lay it all down, believing that nothing is wasted, for I don’t walk alone.  

Merry-almost-Christmas, friends.