It was about 9pm on that day of June 2010. I was being dropped off at the Los Angeles Airport. Destination: Cambodia – Southeast Asia. Now being more honest my real destination was freedom. Freedom from my past, from memories, from everything that at one point held me down. I had clung so much to this idea of freedom that I vehemently believed it. As I was boarding my China Airlines flight that was going to take me far away from all my problems, my heart started pounding fast, I was beyond happy. I could see it all right there in front of me, all my problems dissolving, no more worries, no more dilemmas, no more headaches. I was leaving ALL behind. I was invincible.
All this could have been a wonderful experience if it wasn’t because only two weeks earlier I had ended my nine-year marriage. As I landed in Taiwan (first stop) I could tell something was off. This is Taiwan and all they were playing at the airport was Michael Jackson! Now, I don’t have anything against the guy but I couldn’t help and asked myself why? I was ready to hear some Chinese notes -whatever that is- but Michael? In Taiwan? Listening to “Give in to Me” took me back, way back to where I was coming from, not a good sign.
Then I landed in Cambodia (final destination for the following two weeks). Something tapped on my shoulder. Right there with a smirk on its face announced, “welcome back!” I turned around and with a crazy look in my face said, ”what the heck are you doing here?” it replied “I’m not leaving without you.” My emotional baggage had it all figured it out, that evening -in LA- when I got distracted with my boarding pass, it jumped into the flight with me. I think airlines should charge a fee for excess of emotional baggage, anyway, the point is that my plan to be propelled into infinite happiness had completely failed.
A few months later -while living in Vietnam- I found out that there was a lot, I mean a lot of crap I needed to work on. The kind of crap most people hide away in the storage units once the garage is full of…crap. It was then when I decided to look deeper into myself. I would like to take credit for “deciding” but it was more like “you must”. The whole picture looked like a two-year-old Picasso had drawn it, not pretty.
Pema Chodron, in her book, The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving Kindness, says:
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
And yet that is EXACTLY what I forget to do, to stay in the present -the precious moment. There’s something especial when we stop running and experience that strawberry -which is the emotion we are feeling at the moment. All the running I engaged in did nothing but left me tired.
How do you look into yourself, how do you do that? A notebook works wonders. I’ve mentioned a few tools before on this blog that have worked (and still working, I’m a work in progress) with me in the past -meditation being one of them. However if you are like me, you hate meditation, so don’t put yourself through hell unless you want to.
If you think you can’t think when a crisis arises, write, you’ll prove yourself wrong. I am a big advocate of using notebooks. Interesting to note that I don’t necessarily color coordinate them, but they sure seem to match with my current life general mood. This is my blue book, I bought it in Vietnam, blue for when I was blue going through divorce. I won’t share its contents but I would love to, why? because is hilarious, literally.
You can write a full stream of thoughts, whatever you’re thinking at the moment, even if you say, “I have nothing to write,” write that down. You’ll be amazed at what incredible stories your mind will tell you when you are “can’t” think. You can also divide your notebook in five columns: Date/situation/mood/thought/alternative thought (very important).
Mood: Rank your mood from 0 to 10 or use whatever scale you want. Sometimes we feel better just by classifying things, like now, as I’m writing this, my mood is 9 because I love to write even though is 5am.
Situation: Go back to the moment that got you in the heat, right when you started feeling all tensed, think about it and write it down, write exactly what happened. Be as descriptive as possible. This is about what happened not about how you felt about what happened.
Thought: This IS about how you feel, about what you’re thinking at the moment. Thoughts evoke emotions. It can shock us and make us cry. How did you feel about that particular situation? You can put a color on that emotion or a place in your body (stomach, neck, head, etc.).
Alternative Thought: Step out of your mental window and take a look at the broader picture, replace that original ME thought for a THEY thought. Move away from “me” to “they” or “it”.
Situation: I just lost my job.
Thought: That’s because the HR person didn’t like ME, in fact, she hated ME, I could tell!
Alternative Thought: That was a decision THEY made and I’m not responsible for that, I’m only responsible for my decisions.
By keeping a journal you’ll be able to explore your feelings and recognize reactive patterns once the heat is gone.
And now stop running.