One day, not too long after my wedding, my husband came home early from work with exciting news. “There’s snow in Julian! We could be there in an hour! Let’s drop everything and go.” Instead of the positive response he was expecting, I went into a tailspin of anxiety. “What do you mean? Now? We can’t just go… We don’t have chains. I can’t just leave…”I ended up wearing him down to the point that he was no longer smiling, and indeed, I believe he was questioning the sanity of his young wife. I had not planned for a change in my day. Changes are frightening. Therefore, going to the snow on a moment’s notice was frightening.
I am not my plans. Or, to be more specific, I am not the anxiety generated by a change in those plans. Although it does not define me, I must cope with it frequently, for as everyone knows, the only thing that we can count on is change.
After my grandmother died when I was ten, my mother coped with the pain and loss of both her mother and sister (with whom she’d had a falling-out after the funeral) with alcohol. Coming into middle school, my life was fairly chaotic at home after about 5:00 pm. There was a lot of fighting, insult-slinging, clattering of pots and pans, slurring of curse words. On a good day, I could stay out of everyone’s way just enough to pretend I had a stable home life. On a bad day, an accident might result in someone getting burned with a cigarette. I craved order without conflict. And felt guilty because I could not control what was happening to all of us. As the eldest child, I wanted to take control, but could not.
Many years later, as an adult with a young baby, I sought out meditation practice at a local Zen center to help find some peace. I had heard that meditation was the practice of mindfulness, of just being there. I thought this would help with my anxiety of the unknown, unsettled, and uncomfortable. Meditation was (and is) exceedingly difficult; however, tears of gratitude would appear during a day of silence or expressing thanks for the many labors that go into a meal. These moments kept me coming back to the center. Now, years of practice has allowed me to be more flexible psychologically and emotionally than I’ve ever been. There are good days and bad days, to be sure, but I have come to realize that my inflexibility does not define me.