A Monk in my Mailbox
I was baptized Catholic, raised Protestant and spent my freshman year sharing a dorm room with a practicing witch. I work with people who practice the Jewish and Hindu faiths, and I have friends who are born-again Evangelical Christians, atheists and pagans. Is it any surprise that I am a spiritual wanderer?
Being a book geek, I have a library with subjects ranging from meditation, mindfulness, prayer and yoga, to Zen living, Taoism, Buddhism, the Kabbalah, and women’s spirituality. I am drawn to a great many authors – Jon Kabat-Zin, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, John Ortberg, Max Lucado, Joel Osteen, and Shawna Neiquist to name a few. I equate “going to church” (for me) to spending time in nature, listening to Nichole Nordeman or Matthew West’s music, watching a Joel Osteen sermon, reading and meditating.
So it should not surprise me that it was an American Buddhist monk landing in my inbox that finally gave me a kick in the pants I really needed.
The last few months have been full of stressors – family and friends who are sick or in pain, work schedules and projects, cat illness, and just plain not enough hours in the day. See, I have always been a “fixer.” When those around me have a problem, mental or physical, I tend to take on their stress and try to make it go away. Of course, no one else expects me to succeed in this, but that doesn’t stop me, nonetheless.
If a loved one is in the hospital, I am on a 24 hour thought train to try to heal her, diagnose her, treat her, and will her to get better.
If one of my friends is going through a difficult time I am willing her positive energy at every moment and wracking my brain to discover a way to help her solve her problems.
If two people at work are not getting along, I take it upon myself to try to smooth the waters and make excuses.
Over the last few months, this hasn’t doing me any good. I was exhausted, suffering from stress-induced back and neck pain, and worst of all, I was not writing.
As I read this, I realized that I was holding on to the outcomes of other people’s lives so tightly that I was getting dragged down. I had read about the Buddhist practice of nonattachment and had always had a difficult time truly understanding it. I would apply it to objects, but never to outcomes or egos.
Lama Surya Das wrote, “Letting go means letting be… Too often compulsive overdoing creates further unnecessary complications…Patience does not mean passivity; acceptance does not imply weakness, apathy, indifference, or carelessness…”
Letting go of the outcomes in my life means that I must realize when things are in my control and when things are out of my control. (Thanks, honey, for trying to remind me of this!) When they are not in my control, I need to have the patience to see them through without getting all tangled up in trying to control them.
It doesn’t mean that I should not love people and care what happens to them. It means that I should lend support, listen to others, and empathize, but realize that the outcome is out of my hands.
Someone else’s health? Not in my control.
Someone else’s job? Not in my control.
Someone else’s ultimate happiness? Not in my control.
My health and sanity? Squarely in my control.
In releasing myself from the burden of constantly trying to fix everything for everyone around me, I am freeing myself from the stress and time-consuming burden of carrying the outcomes that are out of my control. I am releasing myself from the physical pain, exhaustion and mental anxiety that goes hand in hand with holding tightly to things I have no power over.
Maybe the next month will be better stress-wise than the last. I hope so, as I am sure this new habit will take time to cultivate. I am hoping that stepping away from needless “fixing” will free some time and energy to apply to my writing and creativity – two things that are firmly in the realm of my control. 🙂