A Time to Heal: A Lesson of Patience

After an almost two year sabbatical, I found myself back in therapy. Okay, I guess I didn’t “find myself back there,” I chose to go back.  See here’s the thing with depression and anxiety, it tends to never go away.  I always know when it’s getting bad again because my brain feels like it is on speed. Racing from one thought, worry, obsession to the next.  No control. No filter. See, if these thoughts were at all helpful, anxiety wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but instead the normal thought whirlwind goes something like…

Did I leave the oven on? No. But I need to figure out what to make for dinner tonight. If I can make dinner tonight. I have so much to do and there’s no time to do it in. This meeting is taking forever. What time is it? Oh my gosh, I wonder if they saw me looking at my watch.  I’m sure they did.  Now they are going to think I’m bored or not listening.  I hate it when people don’t listen.  People never listen to me.  How am I going to be successful if I can’t even get people to listen to me? Maybe it’s not my fault. Maybe I just have terrible people in my life. Well, then it must be my fault that I have terrible people in my life. Oh we are finally done.  I wonder if I said the right things?

I could go on but I think you get the point.  Welcome to my anxiety. As you can see, when my anxiety increases I start blaming people, mostly myself, for the discomfort I’m feeling.  I find every single reason that my life isn’t perfect and dissect it until… well, I create a mess in every area.

My new therapist recommended I read a book about the practice of mindfulness, or being fully aware and in the present moment.  I have just started it and I love it so far.  One of my favorite chapters, though, has been the chapter on patience.  In the book, the author describes patience as ceasing to try to “get anywhere else” within the present moment.  In other words, you aren’t looking to the problems of the past or the possibilities of the future.  You are here, now, with this moment. “Remembering things unfold in their time.”

With this definition then, impatience is not wanting things the way they are in the moment. Impatience is the relative of anger and blame. When we want to change the present we are saying that our wants and needs are more important than the situation at hand.  Not only that, but someone CAN and SHOULD change this moment. I totally get that.  I think that way.

These passages about patience, though, also reminded me of the chapter in Ecclesiastes wherein the author poetically describes the many times of life.  “For everything there is a season…A time to be born and a time to die…A time to break down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh…”

I have studied this passage repeatedly in many settings, but by removing any prior meaning or knowledge, I see this passage fitting in with the practice of patient mindfulness.  Through recognizing the present situation in life, whether it is new life, death, mourning, or celebrating, one can more fully live in the moment.  So much of our life is trying to change that given moment or move past it, instead of living in it.

Okay, you say, if I just “live in the moment” my life will be great, right? Not necessarily. The acceptance of our current experience does not make its reality any easier, but through this acceptance we cultivate patience. The book tells the story of the Dalai Lama and his lack of anger toward the Chinese government killed, tortured, and imprisoned his people for years.  When asked about this, he said “They have taken everything from us; should I let them take my mind as well?”   In that wise response, he outlined why patience is crucial.  We must understand that anger, impatience, and blame cause greater self-harm and pain than any difficult situation may cause in this present moment.  He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind emulating.

Every moment or time in life is connected to the one before it and the one following it, though some connections are disjointed and random, but as mortals all we have access to is this present moment. Therefore, whether the moment is full of grief, anger, or joy, be present to it. For if each present moment is given the attention it requires, the moment will no longer lend itself to blame, but instead to peace and compassion for yourself and others.  Here’s to a year of cultivating patience.

May we all be more open to our given moments, even through pain and even through joy. May we find peace in knowing that all we can do is what this present moment presents to use.  May we cultivate the patience that the present rhythm of our never-ceasing breaths beckons us toward.

 

**The book mentioned in the post is Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Life Around A Table: Part Two

17056_568427814026_8232112_n-1“Who wants to pray?,” my mom proclaims as the five of us scurry to the dinner table.  Usually that question was answered with averting eyes and silent hopes that she wouldn’t call on any of us to bless the food before us on the table.  The uncomfortable silence was often broken by Heath’s inner duty, as the oldest Carter child, to take the burden for us, even though we all knew he really loved doing it.  After the prayer, you couldn’t blink without missing the food being devoured before your eyes.

I blame this Carter habit on my inability to actually chew my food.  With two older brothers, it was eat fast or don’t eat at all.  So this survival technique has followed me into my adult years.  Throughout the constant food-shoveling, we would often go around the table and talk about the highs and lows of our days in an attempt to have everyone’s voice be heard.  This tradition, though, would often devolve into a argument about how long everyone got to explain all the details of their day, thanks to Ashley’s tendency to dominant the conversation with every minute detail, and whether “the end of this dinner” could count as one of our highs.

My family table.  This is where I spent 18 years of my daily life and this is the place that continues to always offer me an open seat no matter where life leads.  The Carter table never promised to be peaceful or quiet or even enjoyable, but we were always promised a seat.  Often the table is where we would hash out the latest sibling argument or more likely sat in an unbearable silence as we all shot death glares at each other across the table.  No words were necessary because everyone knew what we were thinking.

Our table was the center of our holidays and our celebrations.  And even as my brothers left our house for college, it remained the central meeting point, the war room, the game center, and the reminder that no matter where everyone’s life took them, we could all return to this table.  While it would be nice to be able to say that I learned the best manners, the most mature ways of dealing with conflict, and the best practices in handling a board game defeat, that would definitely be distorting the truth.

It was common for table conversation to be interrupted by a thunderous sound, which we soon deduce had come from the behind of one of the Carter men.  This deduction would then lead to complaints and proclamations that the offender must spend five or ten minutes in the bathroom for his crime and in hopes to prevent a future offense from occurring in the general vicinity.  Family game time would begin with Ashley’s typical speech about abhorring games and leaving the area in order to avoid being forced to join in on a round of Taboo or Scategories.  I’m convinced, though, that it all stems from an embarrassing round of Scategories when he proudly announced his answer for “A Four Letter Word” and it happened to be one letter too many.  Then, of course, family game time would necessarily end in tears, shouts, and accusations of cheating.  Yet somehow we continued to gather around and play together.

My family’s table taught me that I can be myself, no matter what that looks like at the moment.  I’m still accepted if I’m playing the role of the bratty youngest sibling tattling on my older brothers, if I’m mad about my assigned weekly chores, or if I spend the whole time gloating about my recent victory in Taboo or a good report card from school.  I am always welcome at the table.

My family’s table was the picture of dysfunction and brokenness, but we always found a way to celebrate.  We were able to bring our genuine, authentic selves into communion with one another with the reassuring knowledge that, in the end, we are family so we have to deal with each other.  This table was the one place that we could all take off the roles that we often portrayed to the outside world and be our ugly, manipulative but extremely awesome selves.  The end result was we all knew we were pretty messed up but we accepted each other and worked to love each other in the best ways we could each day.  There was no fear of rejection, no pretense of perfection and no desire for winning the other over, because we were family.

I learned to embrace the mess that I often rejected in the rest of my life.  I learned the practice of constant forgiveness and reconciliation.  And I learned that even if we are angry, hurt or depressed we can still come to the table, shovel food into our mouths for nourishment and know that we can be exactly the messed up and disappointing people we often are.


If you missed the first post of this blog series, you can find it here: https://mackenseycarter.com/2014/06/05/life-around-a-table-part-one/