Tonight I was listening to On Being on the radio. The host interviewed Ellen Langer, a social psychologist who has studied mindfulness for maybe the last 35 years. She doesn’t think of mindfulness as the practice of yoga or meditation–though she is not opposed to these things. Instead, mindfulness is about actively noticing things in the moment. She also says that happiness and health are often about how we frame things. She gave the example of how re-framing the work that chambermaids in hotels do as “exercise” rather than “work,” they lost weight and reduced problems with diabetes. We can be happier by taking things we consider drudgery and turn them into a game or play. She is very opposed to worrying about the future because we cannot know what will happen. Probably what will happen will be part good and part bad, or maybe even mostly good, she says. We just can’t know.
I think about her words and all my anxiety about my workload. What will happen if I don’t finish everything I’m responsible for? Some of it will be done by others. Some of it will be postponed. Some of it–well, we will all survive if it doesn’t happen. Someone might be upset that I didn’t finish something. Or, my supervisor might recognize that I’m working hard and if I can’t finish everything, maybe I have too many responsibilities. Or I might improve my ability to prioritize, since after all, I will end up spending my time finishing the things I think matter most.
Then I think about my anxiety about confronting and processing my past. But what is the worst that can happen? I could fall into a deep depression. I have done that before and survived. I have a loving husband and a skilled therapist and a psychiatric nurse and insurance; I’m very privileged in that way. I could start burning myself again. If I do, the burns will heal, and I will get help. I could also take apart the monsters I’m so afraid of and find they no longer have the power they once did. I could develop a wider range of strategies for soothing myself. I could be moving into a healthier future. I don’t know, and since I don’t know, I don’t need to assume the worst. It will be whatever it will be.