Friday, September 7, 2012

Putting yourself on the calendar

In her book Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg tells a fantastic story to illusrate the concept of "globalizing," that thing we all do from time to time (some of us more frequently and more intensely than others) where we tell ourselves (and anyone else who will listen) dramatic stories about how irreparably doomed and out-of-control our lives are.  Salzberg writes:

"Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what's happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what's happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience.  Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.  One of my favorite examples of this kind of globalizing came from a student who'd had an intensely stressful day.  When she went to the gym later and was changing in the locker room, she tore a hole in her pantyhose.  Frustrated, she said to a stranger standing nearby, "I need a new life!"

"No you don't," the other woman replied.  "You need a new pair of pantyhose."

I love this story, because while the concept of globalizing is a hard one for me to grasp at times - probably because I am usually indulging in it myself - examples like this make me laugh as I recall similar experiences where I blew a seemingly minor event or occurrence into an all out catastrophe. 

Stuck in traffic?  I need to move!  I can't drive in this town anymore.

Conflict at work?  I have to quit.

Argument with a friend?  I am all alone in this world.  I have no one!

Just look at that.  And the exclamation points aren't there for effect, either. They are there in an attempt to accurately reflect the level of urgency and emotional distress that usually accompany these moments - moments I believe to be true while I am living in them.

Through meditation, I am learning a little something about mindfulness, which is really not as complicated as it sounds, even though it is difficult to achieve, I think.  Because mindfulness is, by its very nature, a process. And I, in my perpetual rush-and-hurry-and-multitask-my-life-away state, often skip over as many steps as possible to get to the end result of things.  After all, who has time to stop and be mindful?

Well, we all do.  If we make time.

I am not saying that responsibilities and demands and schedules aren't real, constant stressors in our lives.  But what better reason do we need to write ourselves into our own day planner once in awhile?  I use this as my example because that is precisely what I have started doing.  Since I store all my appointments and meetings and various schedules in my cellphone calendar, every few days I come across a half hour appointment - sometimes an hour, if I am feeling really self-loving. Or in desperate need of grounding and focus - labelled, simply "HH."  Not a very cleverly-veiled code or anything, it serves as a gentle but necessary reminder that I need to take some time for myself.  Time that doesn't include work or family or working out or writing or dealing with my dog or ... and this is the biggie ... stressing myself out.  As in -- globalizing the hell out of minor occurrences that I so often turn into catastrophes.

So I meditate. And I have started doing light yoga again.  I go for walks. Sometimes short ones. Sometimes with my dog and sometimes alone.  I have even started playing my piano again.  Sometimes I even put on a half-hour comedy that I love (think Roseanne or The Office. And I make no apologies for how wonderfully funny I find the characters and the situations in both of these shows.)  In essence, I lighten up.  But only if I schedule it.  Because not only do I never miss an appointment, I always arrive everywhere early. Which is really nice when it buys me ten extra minutes with myself . To laugh. Or breathe more deeply.  To look at a minor blip in my day and realize it isn't actually the end of the world.  Or even of my world. It is a blip.  And I need not react to it at all.  I can simply let it be and move on.  Or, I can go out and buy a new pair of pantyhose and give my life a break altogether.

Does this concept of "globalizing" sound familiar?  Do you ever do it to yourself?  If so, do you do it often, or only under certain circumstances and around certain people?  And how do you lighten up?  Are you more preventive, with a regularly scheduled practice, or are you more likely to intervene after crisis hits and the stakes seem higher? (Or at least your blood pressure seems higher?)

I highly recommend Real Happiness if you haven't read it - and I recommend reading it again if you have already read it once.  In fact, what a great way to spend some scheduled time with yourself - reading a chapter, a page, a paragraph.  Whatever you can manage.  After all, you are the best use of your own time.

Until next time -


  1. Great post Heather. I too have learned to lighten up, with practice. Lots of practice. I want to read, "Real Happiness."

  2. Love this Heather! BTW just making sure that folks know that Sharon Salzberg will be in Albany on September 28th - Dharma Talk, and September 29t - Full Day of Practice. Ev erything will be in the beautiful Emerson Community Room of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Albany, 405 Washington Avenue. We are so blessed to have this master teacher and gentle spirit right here with us. To register or 518-545-1735. For up to date information, you may want to check out the Organizing Mindfulness (OM) Facebook page. Hope to see you there!

  3. Peggy that is wondeful! And I hear you about the practice part. I think that was the greatest challenge for me - the inability to simply say "OK, I'm all mindful now. Glad that's over." It's like any self-care I guess - we have to do it regularly if we want it to have an impact. And I am finding that, over time, it definitely does. Even when I look at what I was writing a year ago, or 6 montsh ago, the tone of my work now - even the heavy, emotional content - is lighter somehow. Things that once seemed to defeat now seem to inform instead. And of course I realize that the "things" themselves haven't changed. And maybe I haven't either. But my way of seeing them certainly has. I am so glad you have found comfort in your practice too! And YES to Real Happiness. It is wonderful. I also bought the audiobook because Sharon reads it herself and she has the most wonderfully soothing voice. Plus, she guides you through meditations that I often have a hard time doing on my own.

    If you are abailablt on September 28 and 29 come and hear/see Sharon speak in Albany. I heard her last year and it was life changing. I already have this year's event in my calender. Under "HH" :)

    Thamks so much for your commen!

  4. Judi thank you so much! And thank you for posting Sharon's upcoming visit info!! I can't wait and I hope anyone who is available (or can become available) will come out for this amazing opportunity. To see her once was amazing. To see her twice - an absolute gift. Thank you so nuch for bringing her here. ~~ Heather


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