When I am teaching meditation I liken the mind to a mirror. It doesn’t perceive reality, only reflects it. It is our job to keep the mirror as clean as we can. Things like stress, a lack of sleep, poor choices and our past experiences tend to smudge the mirror up, and the reflection becomes blurry.
It’s been a while since I’ve experienced exhaustion and a feeling of overwhelm strong enough to push me into a negative frame of mind, but I did this weekend. I still feel it today, but the difference is that for the last two days I had a hard time seeing out of it, and started to believe it was real. I struggled this whole weekend, I was difficult to deal with, and the world felt like a darker place than it usually is. I made the mistake of thinking the smudged mirror was a true reflection.
I have a tendency to run myself ragged, to say yes to everything and to try to do everything. I don’t like telling people no when they need help, and I don’t feel like I have any business turning down an opportunity, whether it be at work or to learn something new or work on something.
I like to make every minute count as much as I can, I want to be productive and useful and helpful to those around me. I don’t want to waste time spinning my wheels.
I can be a little obsessive about it.
The problem with all of this is that it is hard to maintain in the face of real life issues. Sure, it all works wonderfully so long as I can keep everything lined up the way I need it to be, but it only takes a tiny disruption to cause a ripple effect that turns into a tsunami.
A certain little boy cries all night, and instead of a few days of being tired it ripples into complete exhaustion bordering on a depression. I get a little sick, something that I would normally shrug off, but it grows into something that wipes me out. Medium sized projects start to seem huge and big projects become impossible. Small annoyances trick me into thinking they are actual issues and begin to bother me. Actual serious issues make me want to crawl in a hole and die.
All of this happens when we aren’t intentional with our time, including being intentional with how we spend our time off (or when we aren’t giving ourselves time off at all). I usually do pretty well with this, I see it coming and I step back for a minute. I know the signs that emerge in me when I am pushing it a little too hard.
I start to crave sugar, even more than I already do. I start waking up after about 4 hours of sleep, and I don’t go back to sleep. I want to watch more television or play video games. I start to think other people aren’t pulling their weight and I feel resentful. I start to feel like I am trapped. The whole world becomes just a little bit darker, and I believe it.
This is the crux of the whole thing though: nothing has changed. Everything is the same as it was. I have the same great life, the same great family, the same great job. I am still headed the same great direction and I wouldn’t change a thing, but my perception shapes my reality, and in these situations, mine has become cloudy. The mirror is making the room look ugly, even though the room is exactly like it was when I was happy with it.
So, I step back. I take some time off, and I move forward. I apologize to those I need to apologize to, step away from unnecessary commitments and try to give myself some space to breathe.
In short, I clean the mirror, and I try to remember to be mindful of smudges. They aren’t an accurate reflection of anything.