The school holidays slipped by and I barely got near my computer. I have checked e-mails, and written a few, I’ve ordered flippers for Lolo, who has now joined the swimming club LB is already in, but what I haven’t done is find time to write a post for this blog. I (mostly) need time to write, or so I believe. Maybe that’s a thought I could question, a facet of the fear of not being good enough that still pops up now and then!
The trip LB was dreading the last time I posted went so well she didn’t want to leave for home. (Though she is happy to be back home too.)
What I love about doing The Work on a regular basis is that more and more of life seems like fun and less seems like hassle. I love how sometimes, with virtually no effort from me, stories I’ve clung to just show themselves to be crazy and disappear. I have long had anxieties about driving, to the extent that I passed the buck to my husband whenever possible. But since he couldn’t come with us, I had a 120 mile drive to do on our trip. The girls are used to me asking for quiet when I drive. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. On that trip they argued, I got tense and loud, and they got quiet – for a while. Then it felt so hot I turned on the air-conditioning. LB whined. I told her it was just for a while and I would switch it off again soon. She whined louder, said the smell made her feel sick. In the argument that followed I yelled at her to be quiet (yes I did notice the irony), and yelled that I found driving stressful enough without her arguing with me.
She cried. I pulled into a layby, and we hugged. I explained that I wasn’t really angry at her, I had yelled because I wanted her to understand that I really needed her not to argue, that I find driving stressful and so I really needed her to allow me just to concentrate on driving – all stuff I’ve believed for years, and that seemed reasonable to my muddled mind. She got back in her seat and we set off again.
I began to think about this belief I’ve had for so long. “Driving is stressful.” Was it really true? I’d been so convinced this was true for me, even if it wasn’t for millions of others, that I totally believed I couldn’t ever change on it. I also thought anyone who didn’t believe it must be extremely confident or manic, or both. But as I drove along ,I began to notice that I was thinking over and over, “Driving is stressful.” You’ve probably heard of positive affirmations – this was a negative affirmation for me. A while ago I noticed that when I was driving I often imagined crashes. (You will also have heard of positive visualisations – how’s that for a negative one?)
In particular, I believed that I can’t drive well if I’m tired, and this thought often keeps me awake the night before I have to drive. (It had the night before that journey!)
I began to wonder what it would be like to be driving without this repetitive thought – and it seemed like it might be less stressful. I went on driving, still not convinced I could change on this, and yet knowing that I had seen over and over that I can trust the process of The Work.
Then, less than ten miles from our destination, I remembered the breathing meditation I’d read about in Cheri Huber’s book How To Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be. In this meditation you simply count your breaths from one to ten, and then you start back at one again. Cheri wrote about doing this while she was driving, so I thought it was worth a go. By focusing on the body in this way the mind stops its racing around and comes back to the present. It probably also helps to focus on the breathing since stress creates shallow breathing, which in turn creates stress in the body. By the time we reached our destination I was calm and knew that thought had lost its grip. It popped up from time to time during our holiday, but I didn’t have to believe it.
Am I now the most relaxed driver in the world? Nah, that would be exaggerating a bit, but a couple of weeks ago after another trip away, we fetched our cats back from the cattery (and one of them had miaowed all the way). When we got home I realised I hadn’t visualised one crash! It seems that when we question a thought it gives our minds the space to find new solutions. As long as I was repeating, “Driving is stressful,” there was no room for anything creative to happen in my mind. Once there was doubt about that thought the mind could open up, whereas trying to stop imagining crashes had changed not a thing.
It’s interesting to see how even thoughts we are deeply attached to can crumble away when we start to wonder. Or these may return, but we are a little less attached, so we don’t react so strongly. I’ve noticed that sometimes after I stop believing a thought I’ve been hooked into it can take a while for the behaviour that goes with it to slip away. Sometimes it’s days, or even weeks later, that we notice the change in how we react. I’m suspect that thinking a change should happen – and so watching out for it – makes it take longer. This after all has parallels with the old way of thinking we can use willpower to force ourselves into line. I’ve caught myself thinking, “I did The Work” on that, so I should have stopped reacting this way by now. Of course, if I remember not to beat myself up over it, it becomes an opportunity for even deeper inquiry. “I should have changed by now – is that true?”
The answers I get allow more compassion for myself and others – others because what I expect of myself there’s a tendency to expect of others too.
Lastly, I am really grateful to come back to my blog and see that I’ve had readers over these two months of my silence. I would love to hear about your experiences of questioning deeply held beliefs, so please do write in with comments.