We’re sliding into the final days of my current 30-Day Mindfulness Meditation Challenge. By complete “coincidence,” the topics we’ve been discussing during our daily post-meditation Q&A sessions speak directly to my overlapping life event of watching my youngest child finish his final few days of high school.
This week, my sisterhood of breathers (a term coined by one of our lovely participants) has been discussing how to take the microphone away from the bully voice, or inner critic, in our head and hand it over to a supportive, nonjudgmental girlfriend we imagine sitting next to us.
So when a friend put out a request on Facebook a few days ago for awesome packed lunch ideas, since her high school senior’s last school lunch was the next day, I realized that I honestly couldn’t remember when I last packed a school lunch. My kids weren’t allowed to bring lunch to school during our three years overseas, and I just got out of the habit, especially with my youngest who doesn’t like sandwiches. I could never really get a handle on the packed lunch thing, anyway, never being able to balance the various components of organization, healthy inputs, and my kids’ tastes. So I kind of gave up, setting the school lunch card on auto renew and trusting they were getting enough exercise to offset the nutritional deficiencies of school lunch.
When I saw my friend’s Facebook post, the bully voice started…
Why didn’t you make more of an effort to make lunches? You’re lazy! Your child must not feel as loved as her child, since you don’t make lunches! And if you had made lunch for him that day, you could have put one of those sad “I can’t believe this is the last school lunch I’m making for you!” notes in the bag, like all those other moms did!
But here’s the good part. A few years ago, I would have allowed that bully voice to take it all the way to You’re a loser!
Instead, I just sat with my feelings. I took a good hard look at how that years-long lunch policy of mine felt in my body. And you know what? It felt OK. I had made a conscious cost-benefit analysis decision years ago. Making lunches caused more stress for me and my son than having him buy a school lunch. And yes, it would have been possible for him to make his lunch himself, but that required more organization than either of us could muster.
Rather than analyzing and comparing myself to all those awesome lunch making (and lunch ingredient supplier) parents out there, I’m going to accept the fact being a good lunch maker wasn’t part of my journey as a mother. Oh well. My imaginary girlfriend sitting next to me gave me a high five.
Putting the Bully in the Back Seat
Liz Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear among other books, talks about accepting all parts of ourselves, including that bully voice. She describes having a conversation with “all” of her voices at the start of a big creative project as if they are in a van on a road trip. She tells the inner critic/bully that it is welcome since it’s part of the family, but it won’t be behind the steering wheel. The critic will be back in the third row of the van, secure in its seatbelt, and if its opinion is required she will ask for it. But SHE is behind the steering wheel. SHE is calling the shots.
My own rendition of this takes it a step further, not only just putting the bully/critic in the back seat, but also adding your best and most supportive girlfriend to the passenger seat next to you. So when you second guess yourself, you turn to her for encouragement. And by the way, this is a strategy for YOUR WHOLE LIFE, not just during a creative project.
Mindfulness Teaches Us That We Have a Choice in the Matter
Mindfulness practice helps us cultivate our observer mind—that part of our consciousness that is beyond our thinking brain. Our observer mind takes us out of our autopilot reactions (so often the I’m a loser self-talk). By strengthening our capacity to create space around our thoughts and feelings, we become attuned to how thoughts and feelings manifest in our bodies. Does a thought feel bad in the body? Probably coming from the bully voice. Let’s let that one go. Does a thought feel good in the body? That message is coming from our wise woman/girlfriend voice. Embrace it.
So I’m embracing my lackluster lunch performance over the years. My girlfriend riding shotgun reminds me I got more things right than wrong. Rather than spending time wishing I had done something differently, I’ll put that energy into staying present for this moment, this milestone, practicing gratitude for the opportunity to witness this young man’s growth, never taking any of it for granted, as my youngest baby bird prepares to make the leap.
ADDENDUM: Just to be clear, I recognize how lucky I am that my kids don’t have food allergies or sensitivities that would have required a lot more work on my part! My heart goes out to parents who don’t have a choice in whether to make lunches or not, for whatever reason that may be.
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