My daughter finished 3rd grade this past Thursday.
Yesterday, she pulled out two boxes of old photos, searching for ones she could paste in her journal. I came home from yoga and stood in the kitchen, eating a rice cake with almond butter, looking at photos with her. Lilly at three and four, playing in our old house in Santa Barbara. With friends. With family members who have since passed on.
I went to church this morning. It was the first service in the new building, a gorgeous structure of love. The hymn Amazing Grace swelled...
I cried because I am filled with the longing of this season, a season of graduation, of children needing the next size in shoes, of the smell of cut grass, of the light of impossibly long evenings, of yearning to be the person I want to be so on the day I draw my last breath I can rest in the knowledge, "I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world in my arms." To quote the poet Mary Oliver from the poem When Death Comes.
What always becomes clear to me during these turning points, is as I yearn to embrace the world, it is through my shortcomings that I see where I next need to grow. For as I stood in the kitchen, the taste of almonds on my tongue, and thumbed through the snapshots of Lillian, what I recalled was not the weight of her tiny feet in my hand or the silk of her hair on my cheek, but how uptight I always was during those years. How worried I was about being a good enough mother. How I felt I never was.
I looked at pictures of Lillian laughing, grinning, smiling, spinning, leaping, painting, and sleeping and I thought, "You know what? She looks really happy. I think you were doing an okay job." I saw how much harder my life was and is because of my worry, my anxiety, my hand wringing fretting.
As I stood there in my sweaty yoga clothes, I saw how I use worry as a way to do my best. I have come, over the years, to see worrying, anxiety, a running mental to-do list, as a sign I'm not a screw-up. As an indicator that I care. As a safety net between me and THE BIG MISTAKE (a vague bogey man that nips at my heels).
How did I learn to do this? What need does it take care of? You know, I don't care to ask why. What I do care about, as I studied more pictures of my sweet daughter's pre-school years, now passed away forever, was that I don't lose more of my life to the future-oriented, hand-wringing ghost of worry.
The question that I want to ask now: What are other ways to be our best that are not rooted in anxiety and worry? Here are my first thoughts.
1) Pay attention to current reality. As Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Least Resistance teaches, the way to create your life or your art is to know what you want and to know what current reality is, then let the tension between the two draw you organically forward.
The part he glosses over is how DIFFICULT it can be to see current reality. We live in a soup of assessments (interpretations / stories) that can feel like reality but often more closely resemble Oz. Naming assertions (assertions are statements for which you can provide evidence like "I have blue eyes" or "It is 68 degrees outside") is the very best way to see current reality. For example, I've been worrying about the two talks I'm going to give for the La Leche League international conference in July. Instead of worrying, I can get out a piece of paper and write down all the assertions about the talks:
I have given roughly 600 talks in last 11 years.
I have computer files holding numerous talks and notes for talks.
I have spent many hours in conversation with people with kids running around and interrupting.
I have not prepared anything specific to say for my talks yet.
I have not yet stated what results I wish to create with each of my talks.
I have not yet chosen something to wear.
I have not yet confirmed ground transportation.
Naming current reality is not about comforting yourself OR scaring yourself. It is about calmly stating what is and stepping back to examine it. I do find when I am deeply invested in worrying, I need someone else to help me find the assertions of current reality. My coaching clients need this as well. It is remarkably liberating AND we often have to drag our attention back to the assertions again and again.
2) Have faith in your own deepest experiences. When I find myself worrying, I can take a few moments to breathe and tune in to my body and to Spirit. From here, I can ask myself a mindful question like, "What is most important to me in this situation?" and then "How can I take care of that importance from a place of trust?" Make a conscious shift toward a deeper knowing than the surface noise of worry.
3) Ask for support. How often do we live in anxiety because we assume we must do it (whether "it" is raise our kids or write the report or plan the trip) alone? We're all given a celestial calling card upon birth -- a card that allows us to call on the Divine as well as other humans, for assistance. Let's take the card out of our wallets and use it.
4) Use your body to calm down. Breathing, walking, yoga, tai chi, bouncing on a trampoline with your kids, getting a massage: anything to calm your central nervous system long enough for you to be able to clearly listen to what really needs to happen next.
And in the meantime, breathe!
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of The Woman's Comfort Book, The Comfort Queen's Guide to Life and three other titles. You can visit her popular website at ComfortQueen.com where over 600 articles about self-care, an interactive Inner Organizer, and a wonderful CQ store await you. Jennifer also works with a few clients at a time as a life coach.