Episode 9. Get Your Zen On.
'God give me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.'
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
Often, when growing up, Dad would inform me that I think too much. He used to say: 'Yow think t'much. Yow'm tyin y'self up in knots bab!' I used to believe that it was impossible to think too much. Surely it was preferable to not thinking at all? And I thought this advice was stupid.
Yep too young to understand it was good advice and that I was wrong.
Obviously, we need to be able to think, but it must be constructive and controlled. It should be used as a tool, to set intentions and goals, or to solve problems. My thinking was nothing like that. If you can imagine a spin-dryer stuck at max and no way to stop it. Getting wilder. Louder. A crazy blur. Imagine that mayhem going on in your head? And no-one to believe I was ill...
My best friend would ask me to explain to him why I was so distressed. I couldn't. I wasn't going to stick my hand in that maniacal drum to pull out the end of a thought, so I could construct a series of thoughts and thus a sentence of explanation. Frantically burning out inwardly. Outwardly silent.
My recovery required me to tame my thinking right down. I'd be in orbit by now, if I hadn't. So the motor on the metaphorical spin-dryer had to be disarmed. Mindfulness was the spanner in that particular set of works. And just in time.
I'm a big fan of mindfulness. It's a great way to keep myself on track, without meandering back into the horror of past painful memories, or panicking about a future that's only in my head. It allowed me the mental freedom to get into a routine that both served my needs and protected my physical and mental well-being.
Getting my zen on, or mindfulness, yoga and meditation, have taught me that controlling my breathing, controls my thinking. Slowing my thinking down, gives me time to focus and centre. To re-group. To scan back to the thought that triggered the panic and to deal with that thought or belief more rationally. To guide myself back to the here and now, when panic tries to derail me. Just like a caring parent guides her child back to better behaviour.
My ability to self-manage thinking, was also greatly helped by reading Stoic Philosophy and Zen Buddhism. They are really just systems written by real people, for us all to use. A way to not allow things out of our personal control to upset us and to focus on things that are within our control. After all, it's no good going into a meltdown because a snowstorm stops visitors arriving, or shouting at a receptionist because the dentist has gone off sick. It's ok to feel a bit disappointed, but not to fly into a rage with someone, who has just as little control over these events, as anyone else.
If you're reading this because you are not happy and life is getting you down, go and find some proper help, from a trained professional. Talk to someone. You will learn many ways to help yourself with your thinking. Ways that will bring you to happiness and joy. Suffering alone and staying stuck, wastes your life. It's much harder to stay in this nasty place, somewhere you don't belong, than it is to ask someone to help guide you back home. Get your zen on. Find peace.