My spiritual director advised me to work against allowing unkind people to have free rent in my head. I think we probably all struggle with this. People who upset us, people who are cruel, people who do terrible things that affect us, those we love, or the world itself – these people are the ones we allow to wake us up in the night and prevent sleep from returning, these are the people we allow to cause us the stomach cramps that lead to ulcers, these are the ones we allow to cause us to move, or to quit jobs, to change careers, or to do something even worse.
But yes, I use the phrase “whom we allow…” with intention.
It doesn’t feel that way, I know. It feels like they have control in our brains, that their voices, their faces, their incomprehensible behaviors and their cruel choices prevent us from choosing anything other than being obsessed with what has been said, done, or is going to happen in the future. How can we possibly do anything other than give them the free rent in our brains that their effects on our lives demand?
But I keep thinking about what I posted in September, 2015, and the reality that we are in so many ways closer to those we don’t like or are struggling with or against than we are to our acquaintances and sometimes even those people we like or love. If we are not working against this actively, if we are not choosing something different, our brains will focus, give time to, spend energy on the people with whom we are struggling much more than they will on the beautiful people in our lives, the gifts of the people in our lives, the kind and good things that have come and are coming our way daily. And the question then is, how do we want to spend our time and energy? On whom and on what do we want to dedicate our lives? Do we want to spend the limited time we have here staying awake at night going over and over in our heads things we can do nothing about? Do we want to allow our stomachs and bodies to be destroyed by the remembrances of cruelties and unkindnesses? Or do we want to pass our time in gratitude and remembrances of the many wonderful good things that come our way each and every day? Do we want to be awakened with thoughts of celebrations and warmth and good memories?
I just downloaded through my Kindle Free Books a children’s story called Some Days by Maria Wernicke. It’s a short picture book about a child who has lost her father and is grieving that. She has moments when she feels the warmth of connection, of beauty with the world. But other times she can’t access those feelings and she is upset by that. It’s a story for children, but it, too, speaks to the truth for all of us that sometimes finding those peaceful places of remembrance are hard to do. Perhaps it is harder for adults even than for kids. Remembering that “this too shall pass” and that even in the dark times there are always sparks of light, gifts of caring, warm signs of a God who loves us more than we can imagine – remembering these things comes and goes, and when we are really struggling with something, these truths can be elusive. Holding tight to the memories of the good and right in the world is hard.
So, how do we do this? How do we choose not to let the negative stay in our heads free of rent? Having on hand a list of things for which we are grateful that we may choose to focus our attention on when the bad things come to mind is a start. What blessings did I experience today? For what am I grateful? When the negative comes in at 2:00am, taking time to meditate or focus on the good can be very helpful. If we still can’t sleep, making a deliberate choice to get up, write a card of thanks, send an email, bake bread, sing a song: to create the good and focus on that creation of beauty instead. These things take practice and intentionality, but I think they are important survival skills for all of us.
I want to be clear that I am not advocating that we just let the world spin the way it will without taking action against injustices. But I know for myself that if I am not centered, if I cannot find those gifts of peace and grace and gratitude daily, the actions I would normally take to fight injustice lack power, strength, grounding, conviction, and faith. If I cannot remember the good, the efforts to work for justice for others also lack conviction – after all, if there is no good, what is the point in fighting for something better or different? If I am unhealthy because of lack of sleep or a stomach tied in cramps, I become physically unable to do the work that must be done. Remembering that we must put on our own oxygen masks in order to help those around us means doing the things necessary to sit in love, grace, and peace. Remembering the joy, delighting in the good, even when things are hard, allows us the space to walk with truth and compassion.
The goal then is to get to a place where we choose what takes up space in our minds and bodies, to intentionally decide what we will focus on at what time, to start with the good, and then move from a place of strength and love into facing the bad. That’s my work for today. I offer it to you in the hopes that you also are working towards making good choices for yourselves as well. Be at peace, friends.