The Irrational Thought – Part I

This morning my husband and I were reading Melody Beattie’s daily journal, “The Language of Letting Go.” Today’s tidbit was on acceptance of our thoughts and emotions. My husband brought up a great question, “What about irrational thoughts and emotions? Are we supposed to accept them, too? What do we do with them?”
I believe we must accept all thoughts and emotions no matter how irrational. Acceptance isn’t approval. It doesn’t involve judgement. Acceptance is simply allowing something to be what it is. Let’s say the irrational thought is, “No one likes me.” Unless every person we have ever come into contact with has told us they do not like us, this is an irrational thought. What emotion is attached to this? Usually something along the lines of sadness. OK, how do we practice acceptance with this irrational thought? Just notice it. “I’m thinking no one likes me. I’m feeling sad about that.” Give the thought and emotion space. It is what it is. Let it be what it is without judging it for a time. Keep it isolated to this thought and feeling at this time. Watch the tendency to snowball — adding more and more examples or irrational thoughts. Snowballing will tear you down and isn’t useful. After a few minutes of acceptance, ask yourself what you want to do with it. Do you want to simply let it go? If so, take a deep breath in and as you exhale, imagine the thought and emotion just disappearing. Move on with your day. If the thought and emotion show up again, just do the same thing you did the first time: acknowledge, accept, release.
Next week I’ll follow-up with how to process the irrational thought and emotion if you don’t want to simply let it go.

A Time for Reflecting

The New Year usually stirs a desire within me to get away for a bit and look back over the past year. Unfortunately, I can easily slip through the holidays and into the next year without taking the time to reflect. This year was too eventful for me not to protect the valuable processing. Several times in the last two weeks I have stopped for just a split second and felt a pressing to linger and ponder but each time I was in the middle of a pool of family; people I love and moments I didn’t want to lose. So I made a promise to myself during those bits of seconds, that I would hit pause before jumping into 2014 to be still and take stock of my year.
The first six months of 2013 were as I expected. Few surprises popped up until May 30. That was the beginning of a tremendously unpredictable half a year. That was my daughter’s first hospitalization of the year. Hospitalizations have happened many times in the past but last year she spent 4 out of six weeks in the hospital. She was in for two weeks, out for two weeks, then right back in again for two more weeks. The reality of her failing lungs could no longer hide. And as many of you know, the rest of 2013 involved moving to North Carolina so Anna could receive her life-saving double lung transplant. She did, she healed and now we are home. Nine words can sum up the last six months of 2013. There is something very empty about succinctly summing up events in our lives. It really isn’t that simple, is it? We fought, we separated, we divorced. He got sick, he was diagnosed, he died. She was challenged, she sought help, she overcame.
Just a few words aren’t enough. Just a quick ponder isn’t sufficient. We must take time to reflect on the happenings in our lives. Time that offers a gift to our deepest selves to grieve and to heal. For the bright parts of our lives, reflecting provides the sweet soaking in of something wonderful rather than swiftly glossing over it. Give yourself a present no one else can, time to consider the last year. To look over the highs and lows and everything in between. Let the memories come and go as they please. Allow the tears or smiles freedom to exist in any manner of hue they desire. Give a nod to new awarenesses and growth within. Notice the areas still lacking with a gentle acceptance steering clear of berating yourself.
We don’t just look once and then shut it all down, thoughts and memories will come and go throughout our lifetime but the concentrated time given to pondering is powerful. Be intentional and give yourself the gift of reflecting.

Purging Disappointment

Sometimes life goes the way we want it. In that space it is easy to be content, even filled with joy. We smile and laugh easily. The world around us tends to take on rich, extremely pleasing hues. I love that space! Reality is we aren’t in that space all the time every day. How do we find contentment when life isn’t going our way?
I’m finding myself in this very place right now. My daughter and I have been away from home for seven weeks and she is still waiting for her lung transplant. I had an expectation I would be home by Christmas. As the days slip by, my expectation becomes less and less a possibility.
Some days I find joy and peace. I sit comfortably in the place of waiting and examine the positives in my experience. I understand at a deeper level the disappointment of circumstances not cooperating with my expectations. I know what it feels like to want, to wait, to be let down. Without these experiences I cannot truly empathize with the rest of humanity. I would become isolated from reality. The disappointment and waiting parts of me are getting a workout right now.
Some moments I am angry, discontent or sad. These are not negative states. I see them as the eruptions of toxins inside of me. Volcanic eruptions, boils, whatever analogy you’d like to visualize. The icky stuff inside of me which is a natural byproduct of disappointment must come out before it turns into something more sinister and destructive. When I feel it surfacing, I let it out. Sometimes the release is in writing, sometimes pouring it out in a conversation with a friend or my daughter who is the best at really understanding because she feels it, too.
We have dump-fests now and then. The verbal purging of our frustrations or sadness. We don’t respond to the other with a positive, “it’s all going to work out” because we have learned those types of phrases really don’t help. We know deep down that whatever happens is part of God’s plan. But in a purging moment, we’re getting out the stuff that gets in the way of accepting that. The well-meaning words are like dams to our purge.
After a release of the ick, I feel better. I experience a balancing within, an acceptance of reality, a surrendering. I’m ok with being here however long it takes. I let go of my attachment to expectations and I find myself settling into the sweet spot of being at peace with my circumstances. I don’t stay here all the time. There’s a cycle:
1) Peace and contentment
2) Disappointment sets in as a result of wishing my life was different or my daughter gets a call there might be lungs for her which later turns out to be a “no” or I hear of a friend getting his transplant (excitement for him, sadness for us) or…
3) Anger or sadness begin to surface I think about it, churning the situation in my mind, creating stories of how long we’ll be here, seeing the worsts, getting madder or sadder or simply just feeling the reality which is sad and frustrating
4) Talking to my daughter, a friend or writing down what I’m experiencing, allowing a free flow of thought and emotion (usually tears) to pour out of me uncensored
5) Receiving a hug, words of understanding, essentially sitting in the pit with me without condemnation
6) A renewed sense of being able to get up, get out of the pit and journey on, at least for this moment
7) Peace and contentment
There’s no magic or short cut. I think this is the way we deal with disappointment, get stronger and simultaneously more compassionate.

Grabbing Ahold of Your Emotional Steering Wheel

You wake up to a new day. You get in your car and find yourself yelling at the loser in front of you. The one you don’t believe should even have a driver’s license. You get to work and all those stupid people who didn’t do their job are making your day a living hell. You go get some lunch only to find the deli crowded. Why don’t they hire enough people so you don’t have to wait? They clearly have no idea how to operate efficient food service. Eventually you get home and find your dip-stick of a dog didn’t bother to wait for you to get home and, intent on getting your night off to a horrible start, has unloaded her bowels on your prized Persian rug. Do you hear a theme? This hypothetical “you” sees the events of the day as “out to get her”. Each circumstance dictates whether she is content, annoyed or outright angry.
In each of the scenarios above, the person has given the steering wheel of her emotions to the things and beings around her. We would do well to recognize when we have handed over our steering wheel. What I am not proposing is we stuff all our emotions. I am totally against that. It isn’t healthy. Being good to ourselves involves identifying our emotions, understanding the thoughts behind the emotion, validating emotions that are based on facts and reality (not created stories), letting go of the parts we don’t have control over (the speed of the car in front of us, the long line at the deli, the dog poop…) and taking control where we do have it (the time we leave the house knowing that traffic does not typically work in our favor, bringing lunch from home, crating our dog, arranging doggy day care or a dog walker).
Life will actually be more enjoyable when we decide to take responsibility for our emotions. No circumstance or person can make us feel a certain way. We choose how we are going to feel. We tend to be more comfortable blaming circumstances and people rather than owning our emotions and our responses. Take a bit of time each day and notice your emotions. Why are you feeling what you are feeling? What just happened that you are responding the way you are? What healthy and legal choices do you have right now with how you respond?  Notice what it feels like to have control over your response to life rather than allowing life to control you.