“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind—you are the one who hears it.” ~Michael Singer
My husband and I recently moved into a new home. Shortly after we moved in, I left a wooden cutting board in the sink, where it was submerged in water.
My husband told me, in a tentative voice, that he didn’t want to upset me, but I really shouldn’t leave the cutting board in the water like that, because it would get warped and destroyed.
In case you couldn’t tell, my husband was actually nervous to tell me he wanted me to do something differently.
Sure, in this case I didn’t take any offense to his comment—why should I, really? But the disappointing truth is that I often react by becoming sullen and moody and sometimes even defensive and argumentative.
Luckily, shortly before this conversation I’d been listening to a podcast the subject of letting go, about how our minds are not our souls; they’re our psyches.
In other words, I was in a pretty peaceful place, easily able to see how any thoughts about how he was wrong or he shouldn’t have said that to me or that I was a horrible person for leaving a cutting board in the sink were very, very easy to let go of.
It felt great. I didn’t get upset, I didn’t say anything mean; I just said no problem and moved on. Not just on the outside, but on the inside, too.
It’s still not always that way for me, though.
In fact, a very recent interaction with my husband was a different story entirely. I’d gone to the store for a few last minute things before Thanksgiving, and when I came home my husband could see that I had purchased a tube of toothpaste—the wrong kind.
As soon as I walked through the door he said, “Crest? Why did you get Crest? We always get Colgate!” And, at least from my perspective, he didn’t say it in all that friendly of a tone.
I immediately got defensive and took on his tone and told him he didn’t have to use it if he didn’t want to, then I went into the kitchen and went back and forth between seething and hating myself.
Luckily, somewhere in that process, I was able to, just for a moment, name what was going on inside my body and mind instead of being completely sucked into it.
I said to myself, as though I was describing symptoms to a doctor, what was going on. “I feel all jumbled up in my chest, and my stomach feels nervous. I notice that I am feeling really bad about something small, and I’m really, really blowing it out of proportion.”
To be upset about something so insignificant is probably indicative of a larger problem, of course; in this case, the fact that I was stressed about holiday prep and my upcoming birthday and, well the list could have gone on, I’m sure.
Still, this is an absolutely perfect example of how the smallest things can unhinge us, even when we’re walking a spiritual path or doing our best to improve ourselves and our lives.
I know I’m not alone. I see it in my husband, I see it in co-workers and friends.
We’re so busy trying to be right, trying to keep our egos and sense of self safe, that we don’t let things go. We let thoughts take over our hearts and minds, and often ruin relationships in the process.
I feel so frustrated at myself when I look back at all the times I’ve not been able to let things go and have reacted negatively, but that doesn’t help me move forward, either.
How can I consistently be calm? How can I consistently let go of the things, both big and small, that cause so much internal turmoil?
Always, always return to the stillness inside me, for one. I know it’s there, I’ve felt it. I’m just better at accessing it sometimes more than others.
That stillness is the place from which I believe our true selves speak, and that true self is not concerned with small things, or worried about keeping our egos afloat.
I know taking three deep breaths helps me do it. I know simply telling myself that “these thoughts are not me” helps me do it.
Besides accessing the stillness, naming what I’m feeling, as I mentioned earlier, really helps. It puts a distance between me and the thoughts pulsing through my head, again helping me to remember that I am not my thoughts.
Acknowledging that I’m spiraling or feeling sorry for myself helps, too. I think it’s something about knocking back that part of me that always has to be right and telling it I see it and I want it to go away.
Another way to let go is to ask myself if this will matter in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year. Usually it won’t matter, and that, too, allows me to give myself some space to move on.
I know there are certain things in life that do need to be dealt with, that are bigger than a tussle over toothpaste. I still think those are best dealt with by first letting go of that negative, insistent voice, though.
I think back to when I was in my early twenties and a job I was supposed to have was given to a guy who’d recently returned to the inn where I worked, even though he’d abruptly disappeared for another job and left the inn owner in a bind.
I was so mad, so angry, that I stormed out, packed all of my stuff (I lived on premises), went back to the office, quit, and then drove away.
I’m not saying quitting wasn’t the right option for me, because it probably was. The owner of the inn was new to the game and extraordinarily disorganized, and I probably would have been miserable for the whole winter.
Still, there was a better, calmer way to handle things that would have left me feeling more balanced and sure about myself and my decisions.
If I could go back fifteen years, I think I’d tell myself to take a few deep breaths. To be still. I wasn’t meditating yet, or even aware that I was in charge of my thoughts, but I would tell that younger woman to find her center and go from there.
I’m genuinely tired of letting my mind run my life. I want to let go, to let decisions come from the deepest part of myself. I think by remembering to find the stillness and let the negative thoughts pass by, and to find any way possible to separate myself from them whenever possible, my life will be much closer to peaceful.