Friday, April 11, 2008

Mantra of the Day: "Not Helpful."

OK, so I hope you followed my recommendation and watched the Randy Pausch special on ABC two nights ago.

I am continuously amazed by the perspective Randy offers the world, which is a perspective that seems not borne from only this bad situation; instead, he seems to think differently than the rest of us, and trust me, it's a good kind of different. I feel blessed to have had the benefit of his thoughts and perspectives as they've been shared with the world via his lecture and now his book.

But what I learned from the special, and what I didn't know, was what a different, special kind of woman he has for his wife. I was also inspired by Jai Pausch, and by her ability to find peace and perspective in the midst of the unlucky reality of Randy's cancer.

She said something that I think we can all learn from, no matter how good or how bad our situations are. She said that when she first learned of the diagnosis that she would see her husband playing with the kids in the snow, and would think, "That's maybe the last time he'll play with his kids in the snow," and that would lead her to a whole new round of crying.

Eventually, after a lot of crying, she went to a therapist, who she says told her to not let tomorrow ruin today.

Brilliant insight number one! When I was living far away from my boyfriend (now my husband), he'd often come and visit me for long weekends. And the first day was always magical, a feeling like my missing half had been restored. But as time went on, thoughts crept in: only 2.5 days left, only one more day left, only half a day left. And I would begin to mourn for his departure, even though he was sitting right next to me.

I had let the future ruin the present. I don't know if this is a sin or anything, but it seems like it should be. Something like "Thou Shalt Not Squander Thine God-given Present" or what have you. Really. Wasting the moment you have is really an affront to the universe.

Brilliant insight number two from Jai Pausch's therapist was this: Whenever you hear your thoughts going down that path--the present-squandering path of worry or anxiety--repeat to yourself: Not helpful.

Not helpful! What power in those two little words! Whenever you're angry because your boss has wronged you, ditch the anger, and focus on improving your situation. Why? Because your anger is not helpful. Whenever you're mourning for a departure not yet come, recognize and embrace the time you do have. Why? Because your mourning is not helpful.

Anger and mourning and sadness may have their place of course, but very rarely do worry and anxiety. Usually they just make us feel bad and helpless.

So the next time you notice your mind consumed with worries, fears, anxieties and emotions that are burdening you and preventing you from working to enjoy what you have or change your situation through action, repeat it with me: Not helpful.

So what is helpful? Acceptance. Your boss is a jerk? Accept it. Your husband is dying? I don't know how it's possible (and I hope and pray I never have to find out), but somehow you must accept it.

It seems to me that accepting something is like being handed a special kind of eyeglasses. Before you had them, what you couldn't see simply wasn't there for you, but once on, you see a path, new to you, but one that had been there all along. A path that is only revealed through the transformation of acceptance, and a path that once seen, must be taken.

Incidentally, that path is there for you alone, meaning each of our journeys will be so separate as to make comparison worthless. So don't try. So what if someone else did this or that after they lost their job, and so what if when so and so had a baby they were depressed/joyous/neurotic. There may be some use in comparing yourself to someone else, but if there is, I haven't found it yet.

So, the take home message is, if you're worrying about a lot of stuff that hasn't happened, or you're trapped in a rut of unhelpful thinking, quit it, because you're pissing off the universe. And a pissed off universe is a universe unlikely to give you any bliss.

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