WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

This is the very first blog post I wrote, on Sunday, December 1, 2002.
And it’s still true today. Except Walt is gone now, may his gentle heart and fevered brain rest in peace.  And if it gives YOUR fevered brain a little peace today, well, that’s good, too!

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house.  But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day.  I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.  He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret:

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go?  “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.”  Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded.  He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….”  He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’  I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too.  So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually.  I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices.  I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process.  It wasn’t any one thing.  It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time.  It was the birth of my oldest child.  It was a workshop I took.  It was trying to spiritually accomodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago.  It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year.  It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too.  When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.  (Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger.  I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic.)  When we still hear that little voice, we may panic.  Dang!  It’s still there!  Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power.  You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–“You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice.  I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices.  I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out.  I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them.  But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go.  They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common?  In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act.  And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up.  You get the cold feet.  You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie?  And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?  I don’thave to do this.’  It is something I confront at the beginning of everything.  I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel.  It’s very hard.  It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it.  The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record.  She’s actually won two Oscars.  And that her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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Quieting Down the Monkey Mind

It only takes a minute. Really. You have 60 seconds, don’t you?

I dunno what’s going on the last few months. Oh wait, yes, I do. I had foot surgery, and accomplished not very much. (OTOH, I read a LOT of books! So THAT was good….)

I still run out of energy early in the evening. So I go to bed early.

And then the monkey mind takes over.

“I’m not doing it right.”

“I’m doing it right, but people are telling me I’m doing it wrong.”

“People don’t like me.”

“Well, actually, I don’t like them.

“I’m a fake.”

“I’m not a fake!”

“Yes, you are.”

“I said I’d do something, but I didn’t. Okay, I did it, but I didn’t do a very good job. Okay, it’s a good enough job, but somebody gave me crap about it.”

“I should be better/kinder/smarter/funnier/thinner/more active/more patient/more appreciated/humbler/more assertive/oh-God-is-this-all-there-is-t0-life??? Self-doubt, self-denigration, righteous indignation??”

After a few months of this, I wondered if California was really were we are supposed to be.

Ahhhh, monkey mind…..

Unfortunately, there’s no permanent cure for monkey mind. Like an appendix, it’s ancient self-preservation thingie that doesn’t serve us well in our modern world.

But we can take tiny steps, daily, to soothe it. Tiny steps that slowly, but surely, get us back to our happy, productive, peaceful place in the world.

How do I get there?

For starters, I found this one-minute video online. One minute that helps you calm your monkey.

Second, watch for what crosses my path.

I contacted a friend recently. She asked me how I was doing. I wrote back, “A little bobbled…We feel up in the air again, some critical things missing. But also realizing we have to sit with uncertainty, or we’ll drive ourselves crazy!! Does that make sense??”

She wrote back, “Yes. I sit with it on a daily basis….until clarity presents herself.”

And then it hit me: I wasn’t ‘sitting with uncertainty’. I was struggling with it. Fighting it. Trying to sort it all out. And when I tried to sleep, it rolled over me like a giant wave, trying to take me out to sea.

Sitting with uncertainty… There it was, right in front of me like a Pokemon Go critter.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

And now I look up at my desk, where a pile of little horses, bears, and otters are waiting to be turned into ‘worry stones’….

I feel better already!

(Thanks and a hat tip to Sheri Gaynor, feisty woman!)

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I thought I made these to expand my product line. Nope. I needed them for myself!