This is a piece that I originally guest posted for specialneeds.com awhile back, and I decided to publish it here on my blog, too.
The other day there was a knock at my door. When I answered it was an elderly lady inquiring about my husband's business. She described what she needed and when she'd be home, stating that her husband had cancer and they were often not home during the day due to him needing frequent treatments. As she was leaving she mentioned something about how she puts something up against her door, so people can't look inside her house during the night and see she was there alone. I immediately felt a tinge of sadness for her. I could only imagine how she must feel during such a difficult time. I recalled the few and far between nights I have spent alone in the house while my husband was away and how I slept with phone under my pillow and checked the doors and windows three or four times.
I knew how I didn't care to be alone at night. I also know that her home address was outside of our little tiny town in the middle of the country. Burglars looking to rob people were an unlikely scenario at her residence. I knew that her fears weren't about being robbed. Her fears were about much more than that. They were about being alone. They were about being vulnerable and feeling powerless. They were manifesting in a fear that was easier to face than the possibility of losing her husband. Protecting yourself from a home invasion provides one with the ability to be proactive. One can prepare and be smart about avoiding robbers. One cannot do the same with a loved one's death or the loneliness that will ensue afterwards. In my mind, I can imagine myself in that situation. How the pain would be so intense that I'd almost want to do anything to ease it. How I would love to stop or avoid it. But, isn't it the avoidance that causes the most suffering? If we think about almost any anxiety we might have, it's usually linked back somewhere to avoiding something else. This is most especially true with most anxiety disorders. OCD, hoarding, eating disorders, panic attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, agoraphobia... they are all irrational fears that we try to placate by controlling our environments in some way. As we try to avoid feeling upset, sad, lonely, wrong, afraid, we pick up more rituals, more behaviors that actually make life less worth living. We know we don't like feeling negative emotions, so we work ourselves around not having to, only to keep doing this means we sacrifice a little bit of freedom and more the next time, and before we know it our world has become one big mess of avoiding. Avoiding suffering. We cling to what we love and push away what we hate. What if instead, we could live in each moment mindfully aware of our emotions, but not judging them? We could never be happy with a dear loved one's impending death. No one should ever suggest such a thing, but what if we could invite the sadness in and investigate it? It might bring along it's friends resentment, agony, and despair. That's okay. We could get to know them, too. What if, we knew that the moment won't last forever, and we just accepted this as part of our journey in this moment to be feeling what we're feeling? No running, no avoiding, no clinging. Just paying attention to what it is we're feeling, right now in this moment.
I have been trying to apply this philosophy to my everyday life. Not just with anxiety, but with anger, as well. I find that I sometimes can find some interesting things about myself if I can invite my less than savory emotions in and investigate them. I have found that my anxiety is often a result in not trusting that I will know how to complete a task once things get out of order. I do need certain order to able to maintain executive functioning issues so common with Asperger's, but other times it's about fearing that total chaos will ensue if I don't have complete structure. It's often about what I feel others might think if I am unable to complete tasks. Such as, what if I choose to not do the dishes and someone sees my kitchen, what will they think? Will they think I can't keep a house? Will they think I should have a job outside the home, since I obviously can't keep up with the housework? Will it reflect on my worth as a person? No, I can't let that happen.. I'd better be sure to keep up all appearance that I am a good worthy person by doing the dishes. That sounds far fetched, but I know many people would feel the same if they really investigated their 'need' to get things done.
I have found anger to be full of judgments, as well. When we get angry we usually have an assumption in our minds as to the mind of the offending party. It's usually something along the lines of them knowing they are doing something to upset us, then choosing to do it anyway, despite the inconvenience or hardship it causes us, thus rendering them to feel they are superior to us. If someone cuts you off in traffic, what is the first thing you think? For me, it's that they saw me, made a decision to race out ahead of me, because they arrogantly think they are more important than anyone else. Or, the last time your significant other left their socks in the middle of the floor, or interrupted your favorite program by talking. In your mind they knew they were inconveniencing you, but made a conscious decision to do so anyway, regardless if they did or not, we assume so. We feel they did something that would upset us purposefully and this makes us feel devalued. This may be far from the case, but in a moment of reaction, we often take the role of assigning blame.
Learning to be Mindful isn't going to make problems disappear, but will teach you to deal with them in a new, compassionate way that will lend itself to a more relaxed, happier you . In a world that isn't made for people like me, I find there to be a lot of discomfort and confusion. Remembering to be okay with that discomfort and not let it turn into unnecessary suffering is a skill worth learning.