This is my second round of blogging through the holidays, and I learned last year just how hard it is to stay on a schedule this time of year. “This time of year” for us includes Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, with both in-town grandmothers’ birthdays thrown into the mix.
Last year was extra busy because we were hosting our awesome Australian exchange student. This year is extra busy because we’ll be celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday by hosting a family reunion this weekend. I’ve had houseguests for the past ten days (and loved it), and will have more houseguests through the middle of next week (and will love it).
The uninvited visitor was stomach flu, which screamed through the house starting the day before Thanksgiving, taking down both boys and my sister between Wednesday and Saturday.
With more than a few things to do to prepare for the birthday bash the following weekend, all I could think was, It will be disastrous if I get the stomach flu! Nothing could be worse! I simply CAN’T get sick now!
I washed my hands raw and wiped every surface, TV remote, and computer keypad with Clorox anti-bacterial wipes. I tried not to breath as I emptied and rinsed my kids’ vomit from trash pails over and over again. I brought in more Clorox wipes. After that, I brought in more Clorox wipes. (And yes, I am aware of the dangers of overuse of antibacterials, but it was a war zone, people.)
Gotta love the universe’s sense of humor. Right in the middle of my morning meditation three days ago, I was hit with a wave of nausea that sent me stumbling back to bed. My husband wasn’t spared either, and we both spent that day and night practically comatose (when we weren’t in the bathroom).
As I lay in bed, I wasn’t surprised to hear that familiar voice in my head trying to stir things up further. This is the worst thing that could happen! You’ll never be ready when the relatives arrive later this week! You only have half of your Christmas decorations unpacked and the house will be a mess! There’s no way you’ll get the shopping and cooking and the rest of the organizing finished in time! Your mother’s 80th birthday celebration will be a disaster! You’ll disappoint EVERYONE!!!
And finally, If I’m too sick to shop on Cyber Monday, will Christmas still happen? Yes, that’s how bad it got.
The good news is, I only listened to that voice for a minute or two before recognizing it for what it was — a figment of my imagination, not to be trusted. I also noticed that the nausea intensified with each of those crazy-making thoughts.
I don’t like to suffer. It sounds so obvious–who likes to suffer, after all?–but this simply stated realization has become profoundly helpful to me in the midst of challenging situations. The voice in my head (which most of us mistakenly view as “part of us”) was making me suffer. Instead of letting that voice blather on…
I shifted the internal conversation from my head to my heart.
I made a decision to crowd out the crazy-making thoughts with my own content. Please don’t groan (I would have groaned myself a few years ago at the suggestion of this).
I grabbed my internal microphone and–silently, I hope–filled my headspace with everything for which I had to be grateful. I’d had a good warm-up just a few days before as eleven family members and friends sat around our Thanksgiving table sharing our thankful lists, a family tradition that becomes richer with each passing year.
With the exception of our Thanksgiving ritual, I used to disdain these types of exercises as being excessively Pollyanna-ish…or at least excessively Oprah-ish. But if my goal is to suffer less, this is a way that I can take concrete action to improve my state of mind, even if it feels a little silly at first.
And remember–nobody’s watching you. You can do this in the privacy of your own head. Unless you’re me, and you feel compelled to reveal every last vulnerability to the world. The advanced move is to actually write down your grateful lists in a journal or on slips of paper that you keep in a jar (I think Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame came up with that idea, which is a little too cutesy for me but works for a lot of people).
My Grateful List from the Sickbed…
- The bug hit on Monday, giving me several days to recover before the new wave of guests arrived.
- With the exception of my sister, none of the other Thanksgiving guests caught it, most importantly, my mother.
- I had a warm bed, a roof over my head and central heating, making my sick experience more comfortable than the day-to-day experience of many millions of other people around the world.
- I had a clean toilet inside my own house into which to throw up.
- My kids and visiting brother-in-law were there to deliver ginger ale, with the added luxury of ice.
- There was no shortage of toilet paper or clean water or saltine crackers.
After I went through my grateful list, I drew on my…
- Resistance only leads to more suffering.
- Accept what is.
- Listen to your body.
- Don’t get lost in thoughts about the future (unless it’s something practical like scheduling the cleaners to come before your mother’s 80th birthday party).
- Don’t get lost in thoughts about the past.
- Do only one thing at a time and give it your full attention (for me that meant saving every bit of my energy for healing, meaning no screen time, no phone time, not even reading time as long as my body was telling me it needed to rest).
- Focus on your breath.
- Take action where you can (again, scheduling the cleaners, which I forgot to include on my grateful list) and let go of the rest.
To my great relief, the bug only lasted 24 hours, as had been the case for the boys a few days earlier (my husband the overachiever had the 48 hour variety).
Because I hadn’t wasted energy worrying (after those initial two minutes of panic), I didn’t drain myself emotionally while my body was sick. My mind/body/spirit balance was back in synch in no time.
And in keeping with the “accept was is” lesson, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my blogging schedule (and the rest of life) is simply going to be unpredictable over the holidays. No worries, as my Aussie exchange son would have said.
More important than any of this is that my inspiring mother, Ellen Van Buren, turns 80 years old today (December 5th)! She has shown me how to live while dodging more than her share of curveballs, and, just as importantly, she has shown me how to age gracefully. Love you, Mom, and can’t wait to celebrate (starting tonight)!
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