You know on the West Wing, the episode where CJ gets the Chief of Staff position and it’s her first day in the role? There’s one thing after another that she has to handle. When I saw it, I was like, “Oh, it’s like being a stay-at-home mom!”
Yesterday I caught myself clenching my mouth and jaw. I have to be more aware of that. It helps me feel better when I can have a relaxed face (even if I’m concentrating), a relaxed mouth, and a relaxed tongue. These are all skills from vocal coaching (from back in the day when music was the singular component of my identity). A quick trick is to check to see where your tongue is. It needs to be relaxed, lying loose at the bottom of your mouth, not stuck to the top of your mouth. I also realize that I need to keep my wrists, arms, and hands relaxed. Tricks from piano (from way back in the day when “concert pianist” was my singular pursuit in life). Shoulders, too. Just let everything hang loose. Nothing is going to happen if you stop being so tense. The world is not going to come to an end. The sky is not going to fall. Everything will be okay. As I work, it helps me to remember to do it all in a smooth, flowing motion. If I’m too tense, my movements are choppy and clumsy. But if I’m relaxed, I’m as graceful as a swan, as elegant as a ballerina. When I relax, I can feel its effect on my body. I can feel my blood flow more freely. I feel better in my body. I’m more open, more at ease.
Sometimes I wonder why I’m not more forthcoming about things I have accomplished in my life and places I have been to and positions I have held. I think it has something to do with how I feel that a person is who they are because of who they are, not what they’ve done or where they’ve been. Surely, things that we’ve accomplished and places we’ve been to may have an effect on us and may help us to become more of who we are, but the things and the places themselves are separate from us. Some people are comfortable revealing intimate details of their life. A tell-all, if you will, of their acts of humanity. Testimonies, even, of their choices and life travels. It can be interesting to listen to and to learn from. But I have never been completely comfortable going there because I feel that it’s kind of like displaying a shell without showing the substance of the thing. Like, who cares how impressive my curriculum vitae is? What does that have to do with who I am?
Also, I think that we are all too quick to judge and to form evaluations of others based upon the irrelevant details of things that aren’t even current anymore. History helps tell the story about someone, yes. But with or without the privilege of knowing much about someone, you can tell a lot by their present self. Some people are living off of the past, others off the future. The measure of a person can be found in their faith and the extent to which they apply it to their everyday life. There’s a now quality to their existence. The more now they are, the closer they are to what’s real. I’m not talking about impulsiveness and stupidity. I’m talking about existing in the here-and-now. Where illusions and delusions cease to exist but yet where hope can be found. If you can find a person who is a truly in-the-present person, then you have found something very valuable (not that people are things but that the quality of living in the present from a mindfulness perspective is not something that is all that common and, once found, is something that we should want to be quick to learn from and be part of).
So let’s continue this list of strategies to de-stress. We’ve had physical attention and emotional attention. The next thing is mental attention. This is where positive self-talk comes in. We have to re-route our thoughts sometimes. This has been helpful to me because I have learned that just because I think it doesn’t mean that it’s what I should think. This is how addictions and phobias become what they are. We have to stop the thought train before it takes over us (and runs over us). I have learned how to recognize when I’m thinking something that is simply not true or when I am thinking something that is unreasonable or irrational.
Part of my tendency to over-think is linked to perfectionism and anxiety and workaholism. You have to kind of address the problems as they are and then work your way backwards until you can get to the root thoughts. “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay, it’s only ___, it’s just ___, everything will work out, everything’s going to be alright, I’m doing [what I can], this is all I can do right now, I’m giving my best,” and other things along the same lines help me to keep things in perspective. Perspective is the main thing. We lose perspective when we get too caught up in the itty bitty details. The fine points. The minutiae. This is where I thrive many times as a detail-oriented person. But we have to know how to return to the big picture. We have to keep our vision in view so that we don’t forget where we are going and why. What we are doing and for what purpose. Who we are and why we exist.
We might not have complete answers to all of these questions, but starting with this framework just helps to remind us that the thing here and now that we are facing, that is bothering us, that is consuming our attention and time and energy is not the only thing that matters. There’s a whole puzzle that we are putting together. This piece right here in our hands is only one piece of the larger scene. And if we can just remember that we only know in part, then it helps to keep things balanced. It frees us up to be able to do the best that we can do with the pieces as we get them, and then we are free to put them down and walk away when we are done for the day.
We don’t have to hold on to these pieces day and night and into the next day and night. They aren’t even our pieces. This isn’t even our puzzle. We have been given the honor and privilege of working on this puzzle, to play a part in the completion of it. This changes a lot. We no longer have to cling to the one piece that ended up in our hands and obsess over where it goes and how we’re ever supposed to figure out how to make all the other pieces fit. We do what we can, then we put it down. We pick it up when it’s time to work on it, then we put it back down. We can only do what we can do and then trust God to oversee the whole thing. (If “God” is not in your life equation, then what do you trust in?)