“All my problems come from one thing — when I tell myself that something shouldn’t be happening. “ My friend Gary often spoke casually while spurting a mind-blowing notion.
I stared at him stunned, amazed at his wisdom, and puzzled by his usual, casual demeanor. My brain, quick on the draw, sprang into action, hurling shards of cutting memories. How often do I repeat this to myself? And what does it do for me?
“This shouldn’t be happening” is a mantra that instantly triggers feelings of helplessness about things you can’t control.
This is a time when most of us are wrestling with uncertainty in ways we never have. Fear and confusion about a pandemic, the election, climate calamity, economic turmoil, and civil unrest compound the everyday question marks we usually bump into or steer around.
You don’t have to go far to see folks jumping up and down screaming “This shouldn’t be happening.” Some are profiteering by shouting it in the faces of others, stirring fear, vulnerability, anger and bad action.
The current cultural climate persists in forcing us to question fact from fiction, right from wrong, and nurturing from toxic. This leaves us exposed to feelings of disorientation, guilt, shame and frankly, rage.
Under normal circumstances, locating where you have power to influence and act is a challenge. If you’ve worked with me as a client, student, or meditation partner, you know that staying clear about what you can control and what you can’t is a strenuous but imperative practice. And you’ve learned to remind yourself that regardless of external circumstances —- no matter how stuck you feel, you always have some influence over how you think, react and respond.
So here are four prompts when your hair is on fire with “This shouldn’t be happening.”
First, mind your breath. At your birth, the first thing you did on your own was take a breath. This was your initial act of self control and it still works. Listen to the breath. Follow and befriend it. Even if the breath is anxious and shallow, see where it wants to travel in your body. And when calm, let the breath comfort you. It only takes a few minutes.
Second, pinpoint intrusive thoughts insisting that what is happening shouldn’t be happening. Just listen for them and name them. (I see you and I hear you!) The practice of tagging those helpless thoughts can clear a path for insight and prevent a knee jerk flood of unpleasant emotions.
Third, give yourself permission to feel uneasy. The ripples of fear, the paralysis of indecision, and the reminders of mortality are dancing in the air. Your uneasiness is a reminder of your exquisite sensitivity — a call to action to take care of yourself!
Lastly, self-soothe. Go on a news or social media diet, avoid toxic people, refresh your gratitude list, move your body and stretch, look up at the sky, reach out to a friend. Call to mind all the ways you’ve already survived some enormous challenges. Whisper a gratitude and hear yourself say it. Remind yourself of something — anything — you are looking forward to. Stop acting like you don’t deserve to be soothed.
Gary was on the mark. Declaring something to be unjust, unfortunate, sick, bad, wrong, stupid or crazy does nothing. We want to create magic in saying, we really do. Only thing is, inviting that thought to pull up a chair for a chat — well, that can ruin your whole day.