The ‘Trace’ of My Heart: Part II

Picking up from yesterday’s post…

When it comes to questioning the life expectancy of your dog, a number of thoughts run through your head:

-Should I be this worried over an animal?
-If my wife or child had a tumor, surely I would feel even more devastated than I do now, right?
-I don’t know what’s going to happen so why get so ‘doom and gloom’?
-Is it worth the money to ‘save’ the dog? What will other people think?
-What will I tell my daughter if he doesn’t make it?
-How lonely will my other dog be if he doesn’t make it?

…and so on and so on…

If you’re as neurotic and worrisome like me, then maybe you can appreciate those mind-racking thought processes. Its as if we are convinced we need to justify having our thoughts and feelings in the first place. The above was my mode of mind yesterday.

Surprisingly, today is a ‘better’ day, and I owe it to my wife. Last night as we were laying bed, she whispered, “I’m worried about you,” to which I replied, “what do you mean?” knowing very well exactly what she meant. She said I was depressed and moping around. And I needed to hear that from her because she was right – that’s exactly how I felt and exactly what I was doing and it was having an impact on others. I told her I was scared and she empathized like the wonderful soul mate that she is.

This whole situation has consumed me, and that’s not a judgment against myself, merely, it is my awareness of it. You see, this is part of my (our) nature: I have this deep bond (notice I avoided the word ‘attachment’ – that sneaky mind) and the fear and hurt shows up. And the next thing my wife whispered, “you need to be positive about this,” to which I whispered back, “I’ll try.”

Since waking up this morning, I’ve decided I’m NOT going to ‘try.’ That’s too half-assed for me. Instead, I’m choosing to commit to adapting my mindset about this situation – so I will “be positive” out of choosing to act upon what I value. In this case, I value 1) reflecting teamwork within my family and 2) providing my dogs with the best possible life they could have, whether they live one more day or many years.

But allow me to expound a bit. Being ‘positive’ has certain connotations in our culture and I often cringe when I hear the term used in my clinical work. Why? When we say to ourselves or to others, “be positive about it…” that is often in an attempt to avoid how we really feel – raw feelings don’t always feel pleasant so the tendency is to try to get rid of them. At times, it is a cop-out we use to bail us out from our pain – we quickly learn this doesn’t work for us. The clinical term I use from the therapeutic model I practice (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is the process of experiential avoidance. Oftentimes this refers to the avoidance of private experience (i.e. thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, etc.).The more we hide from how we really feel, to push away the deep movement of energy and e-motional drive that pulses through us, the more it builds and we become closed off. Its that classic implosion-explosion process we so often experience. We live in this feel-good world that convinces us something is wrong-with-us when we feel a certain way or think certain thoughts. Its an unfortunate ‘disease’ we all pick up when we are children and it looks like this: “I am (fill in the blank).” Are you with me? In other words, when we don’t like how we feel on the inside, the problem-solving mode of mind kicks in to gear and most of the time it doesn’t work – actually many times it makes our suffering worse because we become stuck.

So here I sit. I’m sad. I’m scared. I’m pissed off. I’m also turning my mind. I have to have faith as well as acceptance. Two things that have given me some resolve in the last 48 hours are 1) my Christian faith and 2) my meditation practice. I’m realizing that this whole situation with Trace is out of my control and there is nothing inherently wrong with that. From an emotional point of view, I’m starting to see that nature will ‘decide’ Trace’s fate, and who am I to get in the way of that? I’ll stop fighting it – it is a simple truth: he will live or he will die AND if I respond openly to either possibility, it seems as if there a sense of freedom by not clinging to the inevitable. This is not to “give up” or to abandon; instead, it is an approaching, a refocusing on what I can do: love the hell outta that dog!

It is then my faith in God, for Him to work on my heart, no matter what happens. Because if we really want to be honest with ourselves about any situation in our lives, the issue oftentimes boils down to control. I am a believer that we as humans beings control nothing – not even our own thoughts or feelings – because there really is ‘no-thing’ to control. Try it out for yourself: for the next 5 seconds make yourself stop thinking and feeling. The more we try to control, the farther we get from what the present moment offers to us: peace amongst the storm. And this isn’t about denial. True acceptance is about seeing and feeling what IS without frantic efforts to change, modify, dismiss or get rid of the private content. This doesn’t mean resignation or approval or giving in. Rather, it simply means releasing the grip of control. And maybe in a sense, as a by-product of this process, there is a ‘positive’ that grows without any effort. An appreciation that shows how meaningful and dignified our human  (and animal) experience is.

The other thing that has paradoxically put a bit of ease into my heart is my remembering what death truly represents. Death implies there was a life that was lived,  no matter what form, no matter how short or long and there is value in that. We don’t often adopt a young pup thinking to ourselves, “one day you’re gonna die doggie.” And I’m certainly not implying we should just shrug it off. Rather, we can take the knowledge of the inevitable (i.e. birth and death) to know and do what matters. And I’ll leave you today with a quote from Alan Watts regarding this:

“So then, when you die, you’re not going to have to put up with everlasting non-existence because that’s not an experience. A lot of people are afraid that when they die they are going to be locked up in a dark room forever and sort of undergo that. But one of the most interesting things in the world…try and imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Think about that. Children think about that. It’s one of the great wonders of life…what will it be like to go to sleep and never wake up? And if you think long enough about that, something will happen to you. You will find out, among other things, that it will pose the next question to you: what was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? That was when you were born. You see, you can’t have an experience of nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum. So after you’re dead, the only thing that can happen is the same experience, or the same sort of experience as when you were born. In other words, we all know very well that after people die, other people are born. And they’re all you, only you can only experience it one at a time. Everybody is ‘I’, you all know you are you, and wheresoever beings exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn’t make any difference, you are all of them. And when they come in to being that’s you coming into being…”

© 2011 – 2014 by Scott Hamilton and ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of the author.

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