Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tip #40: Don't anticipate events

The quote in the picture is by  Abraham Joshua Heschel 

Almost by accident, this summer I saw the movie "The Hunger Games." I knew what the books were about, as my kids had read and talked about them, and felt that they were not for me (kids killing each other, no thank you). Still, when I saw the movie I really liked it and decided to read the first book in the series. As I was reading, I felt that I could do it because I had seen the movie and knew that the characters I liked would survive. I told my kids that I would not be able to read books 2 and 3 as, not knowing their endings, my own anguish over the probable fate of the characters would not allow me to enjoy them. My curiosity got the best of me, though, and I ended up actually devouring books 2 and 3. But this experience made me aware of something about myself. I think that as a mother (or maybe it is not related to motherhood), I always try to anticipate what will happen around me, as to prepare me or my loved ones better for possible outcomes or to avoid things altogether. Often, this is just trivial. I will start thinking about lunch and I often imagine myself already eating, particularly if it's something I like. But, also as often, it is something not so trivial. Both times I was diagnosed with cancer, my mind jumped into absolutely horrible scenarios before I had any evidence to show that that was going to happen. In the first case, I remember clearly thinking (and you can see how nutty I can be), "I'm going to die in six months. My children are so little. God is giving me six months to find another Spanish wife for my husband, as I don't want my boys to have an American step mother." OK, there are so many atrocious things about that thought, so please, everyone forgive me if you were offended by it (I am). I then went to see the oncologist who told me I actually had a great prognosis. And I did. I lived nine years after that during which time I could really wonder what the heck was I thinking. Then, for the second diagnosis, I was irrational again. As it was Christmas, I remember buying ornaments for the tree and thinking, "I will not be here next Christmas, this is just so sad," while picturing my family without me. My prognosis this time was not as rosy as the first time but, still, by visualizing that horrible Christmas scene I gained nothing, but stress and added sadness. By the way, I did go on to have a great Christmas the following year, in which I happily bought some more ornaments with my kids.

I'm also reading a book now that mentions something similar. It is Daring Greatly, by Breneé Brown, who has researched vulnerability extensively (if you haven't seen them, she has a couple of amazing TED talks). She mentions something that she calls "foreboding joy," and she describes it as that moment in which you feel that your life is wonderful, which means something bad is going to happen next ("the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joy"). She says that we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, that, in a way we cannot tolerate the vulnerabity that may come from feeling joy. She suggests the following in ordar to combat this:
  1. Don't chase down the extraordinary, but enjoy the moments of joy (I think I will actually talk about this in a future tip, which I will call "Don't underestimate normal.")
  2. Be grateful for what you have.
  3. Don't squander joy. Although it may be uncomfortable, she says that "every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give into those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen - and they do happen - we are stronger."
I know that what I described earlier in my own life were not moments of joy, quite the opposite, but still, I did add to my anguish by having those awful thoughts. With my current diagnosis I actually have to deploy a sort of mental gymnastics in which I have to apply those three points, plus the idea of not anticipating (which goes back to living in the moment). Every time something physically hurts me in a strange way, my mind goes to the worst place immediately. I then have to say to myself, "OK, don't anticipate events. You don't know what's causing that pain. If it continues, call the doctor, but now, just enjoy watching the Simpsons with the kids." I know that my mets friends understand this and know how extremely hard it is, but my story with The Hunger Games also taught me that, if I wanted to keep enjoying the books, I had to read them, even though that would likely mean that some characters whom I loved could die. And that's life. We have to live it to experience it. Some moments will be harder than others, but, for now, let me enjoy the Simpsons and be happy.

Do you anticipate events as well? And have you read Daring Greatly or The Hunger Games? I'd love to know.

PS: Don't forget about the Meditation Challenge which starts tomorrow! I need it bad.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a gift this post is Pilar. You are so generous, sharing your personal stuff this way. I did really like the HG movie; haven't read any of the books and will keep them in mind, along with Daring Greatly which sounds like a beauty.

    I think I generally do not anticipate events, exactly, but my related issue is getting way too wound up about preparing for an event ("I hate event planning"). Too many details, too much organization, too... fraught. I think it's related to what you're talking about b/c it's a kind of worrying about outcome instead of staying present (and simply doing the necessary steps to prepare). Hey, wait, it's not even really worrying about outcome. I think it's simply feeling overwhelmed by the process of preparation, like I can't handle it all (oh, boy, we could talk). I'm going to wrap up these comments and go work on the preparations ;)