So, one of my new fave authors right now is Shauna Niequist. She’s written three terrific books and I’ve given her latest, a-big-girl-hard-cover-with-a-dust-jacket-and-everything, Bread and Wine, to just about everyone I know. (you’re welcome, SN!) It’s about how so very much of our lives are centered around the tables of our homes. The meals, the fellowship, even the hard discussions of life. She paints a glorious picture of both food and friends, so much so that if you had read it and then met her, you could just about pick a conversation where one of the chapters leaves off.
It’s that good.
And, at times, she’s heartbreakingly transparent. I’m talking the kind of transparency you only have with a few people in your life—ever.
So, needless to say, when I went back to read her earlier books, I thought I already knew what I was getting into. I knew her style. I had come to greatly appreciate her soul-bearing honest perspective on lots of things, including ‘the church’ as a holy institution made up of sometimes terribly unholy people. And, I loved the way she rallied from some serious knock-the-wind-outta-ya personal setbacks—through tears, prayer, and a $7-a-minute therapist.
So when I started on Cold Tangerines, I figured I was in for more of the same. After all, beneath the quirky title, the sub-title spoke so very directly to how I strive to live. It said, “celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life.’
How much more inviting and uplifting can you get?
And it was…at times.
And it wasn’t at others.
And that was cool, because for every downer of a chapter, there seemed to be a happy, peppy, perky one. No prob. A little zig, a little zag. Life’s not ‘happily ever after,’ I get that.
Then I came across this line that smacked me between the eyes. I read it and re-read it. I moved on and tried to get lost in the context of it all.
Except that I couldn’t.
There it was—a 5-page narrative, told from her still stinging heart, about leaving a job in which she was overly invested. In her post mortem of the loss, the setback, the self-perceived scandal, she offers up tremendous clarity about her plummeting self worth.
Isn’t that the battle we all fight? Sometimes legitimate; sometimes not. Sometimes occasionally; sometimes six times before lunch?
Isn’t it tragic how so very many of us defeat ourselves before we even lace up our Nikes?
I fought this battle just this past Wednesday. For no apparent reason. Nothing terrible had happened in my life; I hadn’t gotten any dreadfully defeating news. Those I love most were safe and sound.
But there it was. Much like the swirl of dust and debris that follows Pig Pen on all the Charlie Brown shows, I was under my own cloud of despair and discouragement. And to make matters worse, I pitted my sadness against the promise of my beliefs.
I knew I was blessed beyond measure in so many incredible ways—tangible and most certainly, otherwise.
I knew there were legions of others who would have scoffed, scolded, and laughed to have such ‘problems.’
And I knew in my heart that my faith was real, my destiny secure.
But there I was, driving down the highway, certain a black cloud was following me, mile after mile after mile.
I eventually talked myself down from the ledge of loserdom. A little snap-out-of-it self-chatter; a little prayer, a little rationale.
And then, somewhat divinely, a few days later I had a gloriously uplifting lunch with a counselor friend who, out-of-the-blue, shared something she learned in one of her counseling technique classes.
In a nutshell, she simply said the benefit from mentally stepping away from a problem or a challenge, even if just briefly, could not be overstated.
You mean the terminal obsession and entertaining the endless what-ifs weren’t the most healthy route?
I had to know more.
I had to know how.
First and foremost, she encouraged me to take a few slow, deep breaths. Simple enough. She said that alone can be calming, lower stress levels, and sometimes most importantly, our perceived severity of our situation.
From there, she took me through a quick series of other mental tips and tricks that helped me—even for just a few moments—to put my challenges on the shelf and concentrate on other, totally unrelated tasks.
It wasn’t brain surgery…but then again, it kind of was.
It’s something to do with switching between the right- and left-hemispheres of the brain and shifting your focus and scads of other neurological reasons—all way too neuro-centered for my limited grasp. But the result? The result I can grasp. And get on board with. And practice standing in line at the pharmacy.
And so I have.
And continue to do.
So, file this mental pick-me-up away and, the next time the clouds of sadness and the whispers of insecurity and the thunderous voices of self-defeat begin stirring, take a few slow deep breaths, hum a few bars, recite a bit of prose stored in your mind from seventh grade, or count to 10 or 20.
Do something to stop the obsession.
Do something to redirect your focus.
And do something that engages thoughts completely removed from your dilemma.
It’s not a miracle cure-all by any means; your issues, problems, and diagnoses will most certainly remain, but my guess is that the mental distance will do you good.
End note: Since first writing this, ABC News Nightline co-anchor Dan Harris, has just released his new book, 10% Happier, which tells of his personal battles with anxiety, panic, and worry. Though I’ve yet to read the book (it’s only been out one day), this excerpt (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/book-excerpt-abcs-dan-harris-10-happier-tamed/story?id=22850949) makes a very compelling argument for the benefits of meditation, focused breathing, and the occasional five-minute-stop-the-madness mental vacays.