She shares some apprehension she’s feeling about an upcoming math test. I try to listen and let her know the final grade doesn’t matter. What matters most is her preparation for the test. If she comes back with a D, then it’s important to reflect on how this happened, and ultimately connect with us (her parents) for support and guidance.
Before I can complete my thoughts and communicate them with our daughter, my husband interrupts with his point of view. Suddenly, I lose track of where I am and what I’m doing, and feel waves of anger and hurt rise and fall in succession with no safe harbor to break against. It’s tempting to redirect this internal discomfort towards him, but I know from past experience it will only increase the height, force, and impact of the waves. I say nothing.
After the waves have surrendered to a gentle, rhythmic ebb and flow, curious and ready to connect with the shores of my husband’s experience (and share my own), I check in with him. There is a willingness to recede if he isn’t ready. The conversation flows well, and it feels as if two islands have made conscious contact through the wisdom in waves.
My dear friend from college and I are sharing a room at a hotel for a medical conference. She needs to leave early one morning to drive back home for her son’s soccer game. I’m awake before her alarm goes off in worried anticipation of how this will affect my sleep. It’s not her fault.
I immediately notice the jackhammer sensations in my temples and throbbing behind my eyes. I try to go back to sleep and manage to rest a few hours before getting up. But the damn tension headache is still there! Infusing the breath with kindness, respect, and forgiveness for a mind that generates anxious thoughts and joyful ones, I gently bathe the pounding sensations in loving awareness and even massage them physically. The pulsations are still there, but I am no longer angry, surprised, or disappointed.
Wise effort isn’t about having every conversation go well, or sleeping peacefully each night (though I still have a secret attachment to these outcomes:) It’s about weaving my wholesome intentions into the fabric of a larger universal design I cannot see. I need to trust that more and more of the design will be revealed when I am ready to learn and understand.
Wise effort is also supported by intentionally taking in the good. Psychologist, author, and teacher Rick Hanson says, “In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. That shades “implicit memory” – your underlying expectations, beliefs, action strategies, and mood – in an increasingly negative direction.” It’s important to balance the negativity bias with joy. Here are some of Dr. Hanson’s suggestions on how to do this.
May we weave our wise efforts into the universal fabric of life, detaching from outcome as best as we can. May we incline our minds towards wholesome states of being and loving one another.
Thank you, Dear Ones in my life for being my greatest teachers!