I hit a slump last month. The kind of slump that could potentially suck the life out of joyful moments and leave you lying on your bed, staring at the ceiling & struggling to find the energy to get up and seek out the happiness in the day. This type of downward slide is not necessarily characteristic of my naturally optimistic, hopeful nature. But I have known these vicissitudes of spirit before. And typically I’ve known what I need to gain traction and catapult myself out of them. This time felt different. As in, “I really need a new mindset” different.
Have you ever got to a point in your life when you feel like you’ve made so much progress that you mistakenly fool yourself into thinking that you should be able to slack off a bit and take a well deserved rest? Kind of like the well-loved Aesop’s Fable “The Tortoise & the Hare?” Well, in retrospect, I think that in the last few years my mindset has been that of the Hare. Like, “I’ve put in so much effort and work, I deserve to be lazy for a bit.” Well lazy may have turned into sloppy and a bit careless in day-to-day interactions, mindfulness, and things taken for granted.
So here I was, a bit shook up. And definitely humbled. And grasping for a way to get out of my slump. In a moment of clarity I realized that, in addition to other things, I had also become sloppy with my thoughts. Our mind can be tricky and extremely dangerous at times. And if we allow ourselves to be undisciplined in our thoughts, they can easily begin to take on a life of their own. I’ve found that, for me, this is when my fears, anxieties and angers began to take root in my consciousness. And I despise being controlled by those things. I was in desperate need of a plan.
During one of my early morning runs, I decided to approach the issue of my runaway thoughts much like I’d approach a marathon: I needed practice. I needed strength. I needed training. I decided that, for one week, I would actively work to push away each and every negative thought that crept into my head. It didn’t matter if that thought was about me, or someone else, or life in general. I would replace it with a positive. Sounds simple, right? Well. Not so much. You see, we get into these patterns called habits. And yes, you guessed it. They are pretty hard to break. But my goal was to focus on the positive. Nothing more, nothing less.
Day one I woke up to my daughter’s nose pressed up against my neck, her arm thrown around me. I listened to her breathing as she slept. I ran my fingers over her little hand. My mind drifted to her brothers- all three of them- who were resting peacefully in their rooms. Healthy, secure, safe. The morning light made its way through the window. I took a deep breath. “Thank you…” I whispered to no one in particular.
Inhale love…exhale anger.
Day two found me driving to work after a hectic morning. I was rushing to make lunches, sign homework papers, and iron shirts before jumping behind the wheel to open the doors of my classroom. Of course, my car was on empty. As I hurriedly pulled into the gas station, I centered: I work less than 7 miles from home, in a career that I love, with co-workers I adore. My work allows me to pay for food to make lunches, and buy the clothes that I ironed this morning. My work gives me purpose, and the ability to give back to my community. “Thank you…” I found myself saying silently.
Inhale gratefulness…exhale ingratitude
Day three began with a mad dash to the airport. My ex (the father of my three youngest children) offered to drive me so I wouldn’t have to spend money on a taxi. I gladly accepted. As we made our way along the freeway, I contemplated how far he and I have come. And it made me happy. I boarded the plane to Texas that day feeling certain that all things in life eventually come full circle. Not necessarily when we want, but when life sees fit. And if we’re attentive, we’ll take notice. And maybe we’ll even learn a lesson or two.
Inhale the present…exhale the past
Day four I woke up in a beautiful suite with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking a sunrise on the Colorado River. I had the entire bed to myself. I rolled over onto my stomach, rested my chin in hands, took in the view, and smiled.
On days five & six, I had to put forth constant effort to silence the negativity that was trying to work it’s way back in. All those worst-case scenarios, things owed to me, innately sad thoughts that were begging to be dwelled upon. It took a concerted effort not to give them the attention they craved. I picked something productive to think on instead. And I stayed with it.
Inhale confidence…exhale doubt
On day seven, I stepped into my grandparents kitchen in the clothes I had traveled in the day before. The coffee was brewing, and my Nana was absent-mindedly nibbling away at a piece of bread while reading the morning paper. I was well rested and vibrant, on a natural high from the amazing days I had spent in Austin with group of women who are my allies in advocacy and close friends. I had a thoughtful conversation with my grandfather. I went for a long run up in the hills of my hometown. It occurred to me that I felt completely centered and whole. And I attributed that feeling to the week I’d spent mindfully rejecting negative thoughts, and embracing all that is good and positive in my life.
It’s been two and a half weeks now, and I keep waiting for this feeling to leave me. But it hasn’t yet.
“Thank you” has become my daily mantra. My prayer to life and the world around me. And it’s been an incredibly calming affirmation. Simple, yet powerful. Overall, this way of gratefulness is becoming second nature. I’ve become hyper-aware of every beautiful sight, pleasant interaction, and pleasing sound. And somehow this awareness makes the less tolerable aspects of life seem less grating. I don’t know how long I can maintain this state of peace, but I think I like it well enough now that I will actively find a way back to it should I lose my way again sometime down the road.