Week 41 Review: Simmering

This week I’ve been thinking about how external circumstances affect my mood. I’ve noticed that I go through my day wondering if this will make me happy or if that will make me happy.

Then I catch myself and remind myself of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication in which he posits that nothing can “make” us feel one way or another. Rather, we choose how we’re going to react to different situations. (I go into this in more detail in one of my early posts.)

So I revise my self-talk: what action will best set the stage for happiness?

Which is sort of a cop out because it’s essentially the same question as “Will this make me happy?”

The question that’s been simmering away on the back of my mental stove is, “How do I disconnect my mood from my external circumstances?” I don’t want to be a slave to whatever happens to be going on in my day. I don’t want to blame my kids when I feel angry. I don’t want to feel anxious and irritable just because I’ve had a religious discussion with someone on Facebook. I don’t want to be surly and pouty when we’re driving across Nebraska in a rented minivan next week.

I realize that I already know how to divorce my emotions from my external circumstances: mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the person on whose work the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class I’m taking is based, talks about how suffering results when we wish reality was different from what it is. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to change our reality, just that we learn how to accept the way things are in each moment. Railing against pain only makes it worse.

I knew this even before I started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class. The trouble isn’t that I don’t know what to do; it’s that I don’t want to do it. Mindfulness is boring. And it’s slow. And it requires me to stop ruminating on negative things, stop poking that bruise. It requires me to realize just how much I depend on feeling anxious and depressed and how I perpetuate those feelings because they’re so familiar. It’s what I know. Not only is mindfulness is a big unknown, but it threatens to take away that old familiar pain. And where would that leave me?

The reason I turn away from mindfulness is that I know it works. And I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the comfort of that pain.

(Zoie from TouchstoneZ describes her difficult path out of depression in her magnificent post Unraveling What I’ve Knit Together. She makes a similar point to mine with more eloquence than I do here.)