Today, I want to talk about the importance of addressing a small issue before it grows into a soul-draining bully of a thing.
I hope today’s post encourages you to make small changes. Because over time, the result of small changes can be phenomenal.
Most of us do well most of the time. We’re awake, aware, and capable. But because life is our faithful teacher, even the most adept and aware among us have mysterious collections of thoughts and feelings stuffed deep into pockets or under a rug.
It’s the way it is. It’s how humans roll.
Worry or fear could be running in the background of our daily existence, for instance. Or grief about someone or something. Maybe we have unresolved disappointment from long ago. Perhaps we believe in ideas about ourselves that aren’t true.
A limiting idea is a lie. A lie (even a tiny one) has layers, and over time it has impact.
A lie, no matter how small, is a self-inflicted triple whammy.
May I explain?
I’ll start itty-bitty, because the practice of learning to fall for untrue beliefs seems so teeny-tiny you’ll wonder why I’m even writing about it.
But here’s the thing.
What happens with any practice over time, is that our skill improves. If we practice believing tiny lies, our capacity to include them grows. It’s natural.
I Know This. Because.
When people sign up to talk to me about their relationships, their lives — they often bring buckets of overwhelming, collections of angry or resentful, and backpacks of profoundly sad.
They bring me something that was once itsy-bitsy, and now it’s all grown up and wears big boots.
They bring me big issues because somewhere along the way, they got really good at their practice of believing in a tiny fib or two. Gradually, the fibs wore new outfits and became fearless.
How do I help people? We go back to the beginning. To start, we usually talk about really small stuff …
Here’s an itsy-bitsy. (Remember, it will seem so insignificant that you’ll wonder why I’m even writing about it…)
I’m meeting a friend for tea in a town I’m passing through on my trip. I check Google about the meeting place, follow directions and park. Then, unbeknownst to me, I walk down the street in the opposite direction of my friend.
I finally find the tea house and my friend, but I have taken the long route, and in a small way, I believe I wasted time — time I could have spent with my dear friend. I notice I feel mildly frustrated. I believe I should be different than I am, just a little.
See? It’s itsy-bitsy. And it’s fleeting. It’s inconsequential, right? A little dose of self-criticism with a sprinkle of angst thrown in, which disappears in a few minutes. What could possibly be less important?
Trust me, it’s important.
Why? Because it’s practice believing in something that’s not true.
The first part of the trouble is that I believe I made a mistake. Which is a lie, an exaggeration, an untruth. I walked down the street in the opposite direction of my friend. Any meaning added is extra, as in not the truth, just extra.
Then there is the physical discomfort (stress) caused by my thought that it’s a mistake. I can feel it in my heart. Just a little.
And third, I tell myself that I should be different than I am. I should be more like my friend who is smarter and more capable about directions. It’s a casual thought, but it’s there.
The essence of my practice is believing that something’s wrong with me. I’m not enough. I’m insufficient.
Sooner or later, my personal practice of believing I’m insufficient naturally extends to other people (they’re insufficient, too), to my intimate relationship (my partner is wrong, s/he made a mistake), to my life in general (life isn’t good enough, sweet enough, fun enough).
My practice grows — naturally. Of course it does.
Here’s another version. I believe that I should do this thing or that thing, but (heaven forbid) not THAT.
But I do THAT, even though I think I shouldn’t. Which feels uncomfortable. And I get after myself (even a little) for doing THAT. I tell myself I should be different than I am.
There’s my triple-whammy, my three-step dance. And the more I practice the dance, the more proficient I become.
Years down the road, because I’ve practiced so many versions of this little fib that I should be different than I am, I have slowly grown an unwieldy version of my itty-bitty.
I’m depressed. Upset. Unsettled. I’m not enjoying my daily existence. I’m grouchy, impatient, calloused about life. Being alive is hard. I’m thinking maybe I should call the whole thing off.
After all, things that used to make me happy don’t anymore. My career is unsatisfying. A dream is lost. My partner prefers to talk to other people, not me. What’s the point of being in a relationship? Etc. and so on…
Then, because of who I’ve “become,” I offer this version of myself to others. I don’t mean to accentuate the negative, but it’s what I’ve got plenty of, so I tell stories that reinforce my belief in my unhappiness.
Do you see how this grows? How it gets out of hand?
Do you see where my bluebird of happiness has gone?
Itsy-Bitsy ate it. Feathers and all, over the years. Yes, she did.
The Very Good News.
The great news is that if something itsy-bitsy has gathered momentum, you can turn it around. In other words, take care of teenie-weenie, and if you do, it won’t grow up to be a bully.
Start small. Speak up, just a little to start. How did that go?
Don’t tiptoe so much. Blurt your request, your truth, your need — and notice that everyone survives.
Revive your ability to say what you mean, which is sometimes different than what people want to hear.
Spend more time doing what matters to you. If you haven’t been singing and you love to sing, then sing today — just a little. Tomorrow, sing a little more. See where that takes you.
Take responsibility for where you’ve landed. Don’t blame others, that’s the long road. Don’t make someone else the cause of your emotions or difficulties, even if it’s tempting or provable.
Avoid slathering others with stories about how bad things are or have been. Instead, do your best to head in the direction of reporting your new plan. “I’m changing my tune about this… want to hear about my new practice?”
(You can tell your therapist or counselor long stories and explore details. But with friends and co-workers, nope, not so much.)
Choose love. For yourself, for someone else — just a little. If you hop on a negative train about someone, remember you’re the captain. Blow the whistle. Stop the train. What does it feel like to call a halt to entertaining a negative opinion?
Find a way to think kindly of yourself (genuinely, completely, honestly) in a small way that you would normally not.
Give yourself room to move, permission to experiment. Fall down, get up, try things. Liberate yourself a little, in an itty-bitty way that is practically invisible. Work your way up.
Practice daily. Be consistent. Starting small helps you be successful. Practicing success is a good thing to practice. It reinforces “yes, I can do this.”
At the risk of sounding like all of this is as easy as apple pie and ice cream on the porch on a warm summer day, please know that if you take care of an itsy-bitsy everyday, you’ll see life-giving results over time.
And you’ll get some mojo back, just a little — which grows. I promise. When bluebirds of happiness stop by for visits, you’ll realize your progress is showing.
So, go out there people! Notice an itsy-bitsy today and take care of it. Look with your heart and tell the truth about something. It will gladly do the hokey pokey and turn itself around.
That’s how you begin. And hallelujah everybody — your practice will grow!
Pour both kinds of weather into a large bowl. Add jingle bells and anticipation and mix well. The result will be confusing, but proceed with confidence.
10 cups of busy. Any variety will do.
A few leaves of tradition.
1 dusting each of longing for times past and wishing for a brighter, happier now.
A dash of Hope, a heaping tablespoon of Faith, and several large spoonfuls of Love.
Stir well and let flavors mingle.
Add all at once:
Five drops of scent of pine.
A few drops of loneliness… due to those who will not be at your table this year for one reason or another.
1 heaping cup each of red, green, blue, silver and gold.
2 overflowing cups of effervescence.
3 cups of glitteriest-glitter. Throw it everywhere, and whatever makes it into the bowl, good for you.
1 collection of interesting relatives and friends around a large table — eating, drinking and discussing the state of the world (or not).
Three small pinches of obligation. What you’re expected to do, should do, always do, thought you should do, agreed to do, must do, planned to do, don’t want to do, were asked to do.
A toss of fantasy, perhaps the one about escaping to a quiet villa with a handsome, kind chef/real estate magnate/comedian/wise man for three months on short notice.
Mix well over a nearby hearth fire. Then stop everything. Let the mixture rest while you pour a glass of sparkly. Put your feet up. By the fire. Go ahead, drink your sparkly. Feel warm and appreciative. Fantasize about the chef/quiet villa idea.
When you’re good and ready, add:
Prayers. Your kind. For what’s important to you.
Heavenly sleep. As often as possible, yield to the desire to crawl under the covers.
These wise words from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “…the best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
And last but not least. With gusto and reverence add:
A generous splash of Mother Nature while gushing about her beauty.
Five scoops of your strength.
Seven scoops of your flexibility.
Ten scoops of your wisdom.
Your boundless love.
Stir well, add any available candles and poinsettias — and don’t forget the mistletoe! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
May All Good Angels be with you this Holiday season!
P.S. My book of poetry, “100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish The Heart” will be ready soon (in time for Holiday gift-giving) and I’ll let you know the moment it’s available.
Over the Holidays, I’ll be editing my second book about Relationships to be published early next year.
My blog will be back in January! In the meantime, Ho, Ho, Ho!
From time to time, I like to share writings from others, especially something that’s timely or something I couldn’t say in the way another might say it. I appreciate when people write with their unmistakably authentic voice, and this writer does.
David Foster Wallace was wildly brilliant, and also suffered from depression. He is known for his rather mind-blowing journalistic pieces, short stories and novels. He was best known for his second novel, Infinite Jest (1996), a sprawling undertaking with almost 1100 pages and 330 footnotes. His life-long battle with depression ended in 2008 when he took his own life.
The following is an excerpt from his Kenyon Commencement Address, which he delivered on May 21, 2005 called “This Is Water.”
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always
shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.
(He goes on to give detail-driven examples of “day in, day out.” You can read them, of course, using the link to the full speech above.)
“The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.
But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship– be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has
much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital -T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital -T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.
Bless you all and may you have an aware and awake week.