By Heather Haskins
In her book Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg tells a fantastic story to illustrate the concept of “globalizing,” that thing we all do from time to time (some of us more frequently and more intensely than others) where we tell ourselves (and anyone else who will listen) dramatic stories about how irreparably doomed and out-of-control our lives are. Salzberg writes:
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self. One of my favorite examples of this kind of globalizing came from a student who’d had an intensely stressful day. When she went to the gym later and was changing in the locker room, she tore a hole in her pantyhose. Frustrated, she said to a stranger standing nearby, “I need a new life!”
“No you don’t,” the other woman replied. “You need a new pair of pantyhose.”
I love this story, because while the concept of globalizing is a hard one for me to grasp at times – probably because I am usually indulging in it myself – examples like this make me laugh as I recall similar experiences where I blew a seemingly minor event or occurrence into an all out catastrophe.
Stuck in traffic? I need to move! I can’t drive in this town anymore.
Conflict at work? I have to quit.
Argument with a friend? I am all alone in this world. I have no one!
Just look at that. And the exclamation points aren’t there for effect, either. They are there in an attempt to accurately reflect the level of urgency and emotional distress that usually accompany these moments – moments I believe to be true while I am living in them.
Through meditation, I am learning a little something about mindfulness, which is really not as complicated as it sounds, even though it is difficult to achieve, I think. Because mindfulness is, by its very nature, a process. And I, in my perpetual rush-and-hurry-and-multitask-my-life-away state, often skip over as many steps as possible to get to the end result of things. After all, who has time to stop and be mindful?
Well, we all do. If we make time.
I am not saying that responsibilities and demands and schedules aren’t real, constant stressors in our lives. But what better reason do we need to write ourselves into our own day planner once in awhile? I use this as my example because that is precisely what I have started doing. Since I store all my appointments and meetings and various schedules in my cellphone calendar, every few days I come across a half hour appointment – sometimes an hour, if I am feeling really self-loving. Or in desperate need of grounding and focus – labelled, simply “HH.” Not a very cleverly-veiled code or anything, it serves as a gentle but necessary reminder that I need to take some time for myself. Time that doesn’t include work or family or working out or writing or dealing with my dog or … and this is the biggie … stressing myself out. As in — globalizing the hell out of minor occurrences that I so often turn into catastrophes.
So I meditate. And I have started doing light yoga again. I go for walks. Sometimes short ones. Sometimes with my dog and sometimes alone. I have even started playing my piano again. Sometimes I even put on a half-hour comedy that I love (think Roseanne or The Office. And I make no apologies for how wonderfully funny I find the characters and the situations in both of these shows.) In essence, I lighten up. But only if I schedule it. Because not only do I never miss an appointment, I always arrive everywhere early. Which is really nice when it buys me ten extra minutes with myself . To laugh. Or breathe more deeply. To look at a minor blip in my day and realize it isn’t actually the end of the world. Or even of my world. It is a blip. And I need not react to it at all. I can simply let it be and move on. Or, I can go out and buy a new pair of pantyhose and give my life a break altogether.
Does this concept of “globalizing” sound familiar? Do you ever do it to yourself? If so, do you do it often, or only under certain circumstances and around certain people? And how do you lighten up? Are you more preventive, with a regularly scheduled practice, or are you more likely to intervene after crisis hits and the stakes seem higher? (Or at least your blood pressure seems higher?)
I highly recommend Real Happiness if you haven’t read it – and I recommend reading it again if you have already read it once. In fact, what a great way to spend some scheduled time with yourself – reading a chapter, a page, a paragraph. Whatever you can manage. After all, you are the best use of your own time.
Heather Haskins is currently completing her Master’s of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Primarily a nonfiction writer, Heather is completing her first full length memoir while continuing to produce shorter personal essays, humor writing, and flash fiction. Her blog: “Lighten Up” is about peeking at life through a new lens and examining the lighter side of things – world events, family and friends, job stress, pet ownership – for relief from the challenges that weigh us down. This post appeared in the Times Union's Holistic Health blog, produced and moderated by Judith England. Judi reminds us that Sharon Salzberg returns to Albany at the end of September:
Sharon Salzberg will be visiting Albany September 28th and 29th for a Dharma Talk and Full-Day of Practice. All events will be held at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, 405 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to study with a master teacher, be with kindred spirits, and recharge your life-skill batteries. When she visited last year about 300 people shared in the experience! For information and to register: Register-at-organizingmindfulness.org or 518-545-1735. Check our the Organizing Mindfulness (OM) Facebook page for more information.