It’s all well and good to say I’m going to create a zone of zero negativity but then comes the messy business of actually doing it.
I’m having some success. But what’s more interesting, I’m finding, are the times when I fail.
First: It’s important to focus on the why of this 365 challenge. Why do such a thing? To feed my ever-ravenous perfectionism? To achieve some super-human goal of behavior or response? To trudge toward it, grim and determined, or panicky and determined, or self-righteous and determined, so I can arrive and be done with it! Slap my hands together—CHECK! I’m off the hook! I’m 100% negative-free!
Part of me says YES! Thank god! Then I’ll never have to feel the icky feelings that arise when I feel hurt or left out or insecure or criticized or scared, no more remorse or guilt or shame about mistakes or shortcomings!
But no. That’s not it. The why is simply to strengthen the muscle of appreciating what is working in the moment rather than focus on what is not working. To strengthen the art of seeing beyond the initial glance.
Second: If I don’t do something like this, I’m doomed. I am. I will be eaten alive by worry or stress. It will take root and spread, like a flesh-eating bacteria.
I’m my most centered when I look at our traits or tendencies, our stuff, as a Buddhist, in terms of what serves us or what doesn’t serve us. There’s no such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ The same response may move us closer to what we want in one situation, and push us farther away in other.
Or when I think of Byron Katie and her method, The Work. It’s all about Loving What Is. Why? Because not loving it, fighting it, is fighting reality and, she says, when you fight reality, you lose, every time. I saw her working with people once, years ago, when I lived in California. She seemed like the real deal to me. I’ve watched many video clips of her working with people since, downloaded her worksheets, filled them out, and every time, something major shifts and I feel released.
Okay. So, here’s what I’ve noticed so far: every time I feel the pull of annoyance, agitation, impatience, hurt, worry, fury, exasperation, there’s always a should. Dave shouldn’t be saying/thinking/believing that. Tito should be doing/saying this.
In our house, some of those shoulds are easy to defend. My son shouldn’t punch me. Yeah. Pretty clear. But what if he does? If he does and I’m in the, it should/shouldn’t, I’m sort of fucked. Do you see? I’m not talking about the basics of safety and protection. I’m talking about now what. Not so much in action, but in mind and heart. Now what. Where will I now operating from? What happened, happened. Can I know, really know, that it should be some other way? And how open am I when I am convinced that I know how it should be?
The practice stretches the scene open so I have some choices. Sometimes.
Other times, after a long day full of many, many opportunities to practice ZOZNE, I scoot my son out the door to walk the dogs and it’s cold and wet, spitting a freezing rain. And I say, You need a raincoat, and, Please get some mittens, You’re going to need a hat, Let’s go, Let’s go, and then we go outside and he is furious because he feels nagged and oppressed and irritated and who knows what else and he says some nasty things and then we are yelling at each other in the middle of the street. THAT’S IT! he yells, I’M NOT GOING ON A WALK NOW and I yell back, OF COURSE! THAT’S WHAT YOU ALWAYS SAY! JUST REFUSE AND STORM OFF GO AHEAD and he yells back, I DON’T WANT TO MOM! I WANT TO WORK IT OUT and I say THEN COME BACK HERE AND LET’S WORK IT OUT! and he says OKAY OKAY I’M COMING OVER THERE! WAIT FOR ME and I do.
And then we have the most amazing talk of his entire life. It doesn’t start well. I am feeling depleted, exhausted, frustrated from the entire day’s drama which centers around things that, it seems to me, most other families never have to bat one eyelash over because it just doesn’t come up like it does in our house every other hour. I talk about how awful it feels to be fighting over so many things all day long, and I’m not coming from the controlled, parent-appropriate place of communication but rather the exasperated I’m at my wits end shaking my fists at the sky version. But suddenly, he’s had some Swami shift of consciousness and he calmly says, Oh, Mom, I think that must be because I’m not that good at Social Thinking and reading body language and cues and stuff and so I may misinterpret or misread the situation a lot of the time.
So we walk and talk and talk and walk in the freezing rain, through the slush and snow and icy puddles. He says incredible things, things that made me finger my iphone tucked in my pocket, wondering if I could somehow find the microphone and record the entire conversation to transcribe later.
He’s stunningly self-aware and collaborative, describing his exquisite sensitivity (Mom, sometimes when you ask me to do something, you may not know it but little things you may be thinking or feeling, even subconsciously, affect the quality and tone of your voice and it changes even in a subtle way but I can hear it and it affects me as if you are attacking me and then I immediately go into defense mode. You may be thinking about a past time when things didn’t go well or worrying that it won’t go well at the moment, you may be feeling bad about your parenting or other things in your life but it seeps into your voice and I feel it rising and pounding inside my body.) and describing his emotion regulation in a fantastically clear metaphor of a lever that gets pushed down (feeling bad, under siege, lockdown) or up (feeling calm, logical, able to problem solving) and that the lever’s neutral position isn’t necessarily neutral since sometimes it gets repositioned so it’s dangerously low, ie, very close to the bad feeling place which means it doesn’t take much to feel as if he’s being attacked.
Logic, Mom, spoken in a calm, understanding, Collaborative Problem Solving way, is what I need.
When we got home he summarized it this way: Logic is order. Order is understanding. Understanding is control. Control creates calm. And calm is good.
That was a great talk, Mom. In fact, that was the best talk I’ve ever had. I’m glad we had that fight, mom. Because without it, we may never have gotten to say all this.
It seems this ZOZNE challenge is teaching me in real time that attempting to reach my goals may be more important than attaining them.