I have a deep and abiding animus towards my neighbor’s wax myrtles. This is the story of how, one day in May, they tried to kill me.
If I owned a blowtorch, and didn’t worry about Johnny Law showing up to cart me off, I would lay waste to those bastards (the trees not the neighbors) with extreme prejudice. Also, I’d do it in a leather jacket or something so that at least the visual of a slightly rotund, middle-aged woman screaming invectives at the silent trees was a little less lunatic and a little more badass.
The thing about wax myrtles, in case you aren’t familiar with them, is that they are prodigious breeders with clever, creeping root systems. My anonymous backyard neighbors never trim their trees, so the limbs cascade over our fence and parachute hopeful little invaders into my flowerbeds. Frantic weeding doesn’t seem to forestall waist-height wax myrtles from choking my rose bushes or shooting up through the hedges. Once the intruders are established it’s nearly impossible to pull them up. They’re now defiant little trees holding fast to the soil with concrete tentacles.
Earlier this summer, as my daughter bounced merrily on the trampoline, I went about my usual rounds, grumbling and excommunicating all the wax myrtle saplings to a green trashcan by the deck. At some point in my angry circuit, I must have also grabbed a handful of poison ivy. Sitting at dinner with my friend Sarah later that night, my arm began to itch. Since we’d been talking politics I thought I just had hives. But, when I woke up the next morning, an angry rash was already slithering up the right side of my body.
“Dude. That’s gross. I’ve never seen anything like that.” the doc chuckled cheerfully, while writing me a script for 4 medications. The abridged version of the next few days is that one of those medications conspired with my Grave’s Disease to explode my heart and kill me. I would have died with an infected, elephantine arm in a mostly clean shirt my husband got at a software conference. The indignity of it. Later, standing on my back porch impotently contemplating a week’s worth of newly rooted interlopers, I imagined the taciturn wax myrtles back there howling vicious, mute victory in our battle for territory.
When clients tell me that they have increasingly anxious thoughts crowding out the useful thoughts, I think about my crusade against the wax myrtles and sympathize. Sometimes, it seems that no matter how diligently one tries to keep a clear mental landscape, anxiety has other ideas. For every fragrant flower of a thought there’s a weed. And, when you try the wrong fixes (drugs, alcohol, insert vice of choice here) it turns out like the poison ivy—you get royally effed up for your efforts. The thoughts are still there waiting for you when you get back from that vice anyway. And now they have more ammo too.
I’d like to tell you that with ninja-like discipline, we all can achieve perfectly clear minds. But some of us just aren’t blank slate people. We’re always going to have active, creative minds that devise internal torture chambers of the most intimately perfect kind. We can’t decide not to have thoughts. To be honest, you can’t even decide not to have really weird, screwed up, disturbing thoughts. The mind does what the mind does. The key is in deciding what orientation you will have to those thoughts:
Decide to be a professional thought tourist rather than a professional thought homesteader.
Take a look and accept that there will be something else to look at a moment from now. No guilt. Please never feel like a failure because you have moments of entertaining thought patterns that you don’t like. Instead, give yourself credit for developing the capacity to recognize that those thoughts will be as transitory as the pleasant ones. Those of us who have battled anxiety and have gotten a “win” have done it not by having perfect thoughts. Rather, we have stopped letting those anxious thoughts have special status.
Let me belabor the point a minute in case my obnoxious use of mixed metaphor wasn’t illuminating enough. You can’t decide not to have scary thoughts. But you can decide to view them as a room you walk through on your way to somewhere else. And somewhere else. And somewhere else again. Mindfully, you look at the thought and observe it. You wouldn’t feel shame about mindfully looking at a nice thought and observing it. Be an equal opportunity thinker. Everything arises for a moment, and everything passes away. Focus on noticing the thought and the body process and noticing even that pass away too. If you focus on not having the thought, you might as well come help me weed wax myrtles next spring. Your effort is not in the most useful place.
If you’d like to learn some mindfulness practices to help you become the river rather than the rafter? Would you like to develop a better sense of humor about your anxiously creative brain? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.
Your Partner in Healing,
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