The Quicksand of Self Doubt

If you’ve ever seen a Tarzan movie or even Gilligan’s Island, you probably know what happens when a fictional character steps into quicksand. They immediately sink in up to their midsection, flail around wildly, and, if not rescued, are swallowed up, never to be seen again.

While played for laughs by Gilligan, it’s not so funny when the quicksand appears in your own life. I learned this the hard way recently when self doubt threatened to swallow me whole. You see, my family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease. I’m the point person for my mother’s care, coordinating doctor appointments and that sort of thing. The vibrant, creative woman who raised me is slowly slipping away, replaced by a confused doppelganger who can’t remember what she told me minutes before.

If that wasn’t sad and overwhelming enough, I’m constantly seeing “symptoms” in myself. Every piece of misplaced paperwork or name that escapes me, every time I misjudge or make a mistake, I’m further convinced that I have Alzheimer’s too. It no time at all, I find myself up to my neck in quicksand, flailing wildly, drowning in fear and self doubt.

The last time this happened, I finally confessed all to a dear friend. I was convinced that she was going to tell me that she had noticed the same thing in me, that I definitely showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I was wrong. She told me that making mistakes was proof that I’m human, that we all forget, especially when we’re under stress, that I’m normal. She calmed me down and got me to stop flailing, to stop dragging myself down with self doubt. In jungle movie terms, she threw me a rope and pulled me out of the quicksand. She saved me from myself.

I am lucky to have such a wise friend. And I learned a valuable lesson–even if there’s not someone right there to throw me a rope, I can save myself. Want to know how?

  1. Stop flailing. When self doubt is swirling all around, find your center. Stop. Take a deep breath. Let it out very slowly. Repeat.
  2. Throw yourself a rope and gently make your way to solid ground. What grounds you may be different than what grounds me. Yoga, meditation, or simply petting my dog all help me get my footing. What works for you?
  3. Find your way back to civilization. Even if you couldn’t reach a friend earlier, find one now. Humans are social creatures. Share your pain so that those dearest to you can comfort and reassure you.

My mother won’t ever get better and I still haven’t found that expired passport and that’s okay. I’ve escaped my own personal quicksand.

What about you? How do you break free of what’s dragging you down?

 

 

 

Sit. Stay. Play.

One of the downsides of being a grown-up, contributing member of society is that sometimes life becomes all work and no play, making us dull and, if you’re like me, a little crabby. Okay, for me, it’s a lot crabby. Fortunately, I have a master teacher in how to get out of that rut–my dog, Henry. I have learned more from Henry about play, and life, than I have in a lifetime of just hanging out with humans. Here are some of the highlights from the play lesson.

  • There’s no time like the present. Play doesn’t have to be scheduled, choreographed, or put off until tomorrow. Now is a great time.
  • A corollary: A little is better than none. Two minutes of play right now, beats two weeks at some later, probably much later, date.
  • You don’t need expensive toys. While a squeaky toy is nice, sticks and socks are high on Henry’s list of fun stuff. If there isn’t even a sock around, you can still chase your tail. (Note: When dogs do this, it’s adorable. For some reason, it’s gotten a bad name with humans.)
  • Playing inside is good; playing outside is great.
  • Playing with your best friend is even more fun than playing alone. Drastic measures are sometimes required to get said friend’s attention. Getting them to come out and play is more important than your dignity so if you need to chase your tail, jump, or bark an invitation, just do it.
  • You know that you’ve played well if when you’re done, you need to immediately flop down and take a nap.
  • When your best friend is too tired or sick or sad to play, snuggling while gazing deeply into each other’s eyes is the next best thing.

If you’re looking for us, Henry and I will be outside playing. Come play with us!

The Summer of Our Contentment

It’s not calendar summer yet but with days this long and glorious, it’s hard not to feel contented. Ah, elusive contentment, sometimes so hard to grasp. Maybe that’s because grasping is the opposite of being contented. In a culture that features advertising slogans like, “Never stop improving,” it can be challenging to feel satisfaction and enjoyment in life just as it is. Enter the practice of santosha.

In Sanskrit, santosha means to practice contentment in yourself and your life just as they are. Not after you get the promotion, the house, the love of your life, but now, just as you are. I don’t know how houses feel but bosses and members of the dating and mating pool aren’t so impressed with dissatisfied grumblers. Not when there are other people who radiate confidence and joy.

I’d be lying if I said I never grumbled, never complained, was never dissatisfied. That’s why santosha is a practice, so that we can get better at it. Then those moments of pleasure, of joy, will be more and more often until they become a state of being rather than fleeting moments.

How does one practice santosha? Start by being grateful. That always works for me. Acknowledging the good, the blessings in your life. I find that easy to do when I’m petting my dog. I adopted him from a shelter so I constantly feel lucky to have found him. From the dog, it’s usually easy to flow out into other blessings in my life—my family, my friends, my house, my job. What? That’s your very list of complaints? Welcome to the human race! The people, the things, that bring us joy can also bring us pain. Heck, even the dog chews up a book every now and then. That doesn’t have to lessen the joy.

The next thing to do is to stop comparing yourself to others. There will always, always be people who have more of what you do want and less of what you don’t want. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feel contentment in how things are for you right now, in this moment.

Look, I’m no Pollyanna. See above for confession of grumbling, complaining, and dissatisfaction! I’m not suggesting that anyone pretend that war or poverty or violence are good. I am suggesting that the ancient practice of santosha, of cultivating contentment, can help you find peace of mind in the midst of all of life’s challenges. That way, the next time the sun is shining softly on your face, you can glory in it instead of rushing past to do battle with life.

What about you? How do you bring more contentment into your life?