It’s true! As we uncover more pieces of our fixed stories, our lives can feel less stable. We wonder, as we pull out the next block of beliefs and stories we’ve built our lives around, which one is going to cause everything to come toppling down. Taking us with it. JENGA!!!!
It’s uncomfortable. And we can be surprisingly okay with it, too. Once we accept we are not in control. That our lives unfolding is a process. Where we trot out all of our coping mechanisms. Using them until we realize they no longer work for us.
This month I had my own experience of witnessing how I cope in a crisis. With my cat Eddie. My first of line of defense was to go dark. To the worst case scenario: Eddie dying. And, it’s a weekend and I’m home alone.
I didn’t know what to do so I googled Eddie’s symptoms. Where I read that his symptoms could be from cancer. My spinning head of worry went into full blown resistance: I’m not ready for this. Nor do I want it. Not at all.
Somehow, I was able to notice I was worrying and resisting. And notice how they distract me from what I don’t want to accept or feel. I reminded myself I didn’t really know what was going on with Eddie. Maybe he was dying. Maybe not. I did know was I wasn’t ready for him to die. I reminded myself it was Sunday night and I could call the vet first thing in the morning.
Monday morning we went to the vet. The diagnosis: oral cancer. The only option: take him home and keep him comfortable. The prognosis: he was dying and we might have a few more “good months” together.
Tuesday morning a spider ran across the bedroom floor. My first thought was maybe Eddie doesn’t have cancer; maybe he just has a spider bite. The hope I felt at that moment was sweet. I spent all day magically thinking Eddie was going to be just fine because he just has a spider bite.
Wednesday morning my magical thinking came to a crashing end. I woke up with a knowing in my bones that it wasn’t a spider bite. It was cancer. Eddie was dying. And all my worry, positive thoughts, and what if questions were only keeping me outside of my body and my ability to just simply accept what was happening.
Yes, I wanted to worry and resist with all my might. My worst case scenario was coming true. I went dark. And, in that darkness, I found some space in me to breathe into. I was able to remember I’ve been here before. That it hurts like hell and I’m still here. That my heart has been cracked open before and will be again. And I’m still here.
Giving myself permission to imagine the worst case scenario allowed me to be more present with what was happening in my body and in my life. It slowed down my what if questions, my resistance, and my plans to change the outcome of what was happening.
It wasn’t easy. My body was there but my head was in overdrive. I didn’t like what was happening. I didn’t want to accept that my attempts to save Eddie weren’t going to save him. My wanting what was happening to be different didn’t mean anything. I felt helpless. I knew the only thing that was going to help was a true and deep acceptance of what was happening.
The Stoics believe in this approach to life. That imagining the worst case scenario leads to happiness, peace, clarity. That it creates an inner space in us. To trust what we’re feeling, in our bodies, when life gives us something we didn’t ask for and don’t want.
Sound crazy, doesn’t it? Imagining the worst case scenario? That it could bring us to a spacious place of peace. Both of us experienced that last month. How imagining the worst case scenario allowed us to feel prepared for when the unthinkable, the unwantable occurs in our lives. And it does.
Being attentive and mindful to what I was feeling, I was able to just name what I was feeling: anger disappointment sadness peace. I chose not to judge what I was feeling. That gave myself permission to not understand why this was happening. It was happening! I only had to be aware of what Eddie’s dying was stirring in me.
Worry, complaining, and over-thinking are things I add on and cling to when I feel out of control. They might protect me from strong feelings. But they are not useful. They are just part of my habituated coping mechanisms. A way to avoid dropping down into the territory of acceptance. Where I can meet what is happening. Whether I like it or not. However, what is useful to me is imagining the worst case scenario.
Choosing to meet what is is the beginning of true acceptance. A hard choice for me when I’m deeply wishing things were different. A hard truth for me is that I can’t change the reality of what is happening. No matter how hard I try.
Practicing acceptance allows me to live in the ever changing world. Where anything can happen at any time. Something that imagining the worst case scenario reminds me of.
Acceptance…blessed acceptance!…of Eddie dying was potent. There was so much sadness. Held by tenderness and love. And all I needed to do, for the rest of time Eddie was alive, was just BE with Eddie. Just be present with him. In his dying process.
His dying was my worst case scenario. But it gave me space. To breathe and feel what I didn’t want to happen. To find peace in accepting what was happening. And stand grounded there.
What a month it has been, Steph! I am grateful for your presence in my life as we meet life…all of it. From worry warts to worst case scenarios to acceptance.