“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.” ~Lao Tzu
Long before health experts were telling us “You are what you eat,” some time after Buddha spoke his wisdom “What we think we become,” ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu mused that we only need to change our way of thinking for our lives to fall into place.
Sounds so easy, right? Easier, at least, than always eating our greens, let alone somehow imagining ourselves into the NASA space program or up on stage on Broadway!
I suspect what Lao Tzu mostly meant was to stop thinking—or at least stop thinking so much.
Of course we all know the power of positive thought, the law of attraction, and manifesting.
But for many of us, our thoughts often don't serve us, yet we still think them. Better not to think at all!
When we think negatively about our circumstances or ourselves—when we dwell on our past or create angst trying to control our future—when we simply over-think our lives, we effectively stop the universal flow (or stop it from moving freely through our lives and thoughts).
And going with the universal flow is the key to your life falling into place.
Thinking “correctly” means aligning our thoughts with the universe—actually using our smarts to go with the flow, rather than being swept along in a flood stream of thoughts, in the maelstrom of our minds.
I didn’t go with the flow when that meant accepting infertility. I rowed and I raged against it. It was only natural that I wanted to change the cruel circumstances I found myself in, to paddle hard and fast against a current of pain that threatened to sink me at times.
In seeking fertility treatment, we tried to fight infertility the best way we could, but we always struggled against the stream.
We wanted to act to improve our chances, so we sought solace in statistics, in the logic of odds and the reassurance of research. We did the math and rationalized away the doubts. Emotionally I was so numb that I couldn’t feel anything, so I had to think.
But I thought about infertility far too much (read: obsessed over it) and pondering the pain made it more gut-wrenching.
As though eight failed IVF cycles and an ectopic pregnancy weren’t enough to endure, I relived the pain of each failure over and over in my mind, like I was punching myself again and again in the stomach where a baby should have been.
I attached all these negative thoughts and emotions to the intense sorrow I felt—feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness.
If I’d thought about it on an intellectual level I might have wondered what I had to feel guilty about; I hadn’t done anything wrong.
In my head I created a nightmare even worse than the one I was living. What a gift I gave myself to go with all that sadness!
I over-thought the “why me” (so I became jealous, bitter), and I over-analyzed the “what ifs” (so I became consumed by fear). I allowed my mind to construct my identity around my infertility and strip away all else.
I allowed my thoughts to define me by what I wasn’t. So I became a non-mother. And when you define yourself by what you aren’t, you effectively become nothing.
In other words, my mind magnified our infertility into one hell of a mighty problem (and it was a pretty big problem to begin with)—a problem no amount of thinking could ever fix.
Lao Tzu said it another way: “Stop thinking and end your problems.”
I don’t think you ever really get over the experience of infertility, even if you give birth. You don't get over it even when you’re fortunate enough to form a family through adoption, as we’ve been so lucky to do. You do stop thinking about it so much.
I hardly ever think about infertility now. With hindsight and Lao Tzu's wise words ringing loudly in my ears, I can appreciate the universal flow that led us (down one long and winding river) through the pain of infertility, to our precious children. That very same flow I struggled so hard against!
I don’t regret fighting for a baby through turning to IVF. I do regret fighting so hard against infertility (and myself) in my head instead of bringing acceptance to our struggles so I could grow stronger through them.
Fighting for something is very different from railing against the flow. I’ve learned (the hard way) that while it may be worth fighting for something we want rather than giving up, it’s always futile to fight against the way things are and play the battle out in our heads.
For me, the pain is still in a place deep inside me I try not to visit too often, but the thoughts of guilt, shame, and worthlessness are largely gone now—even the most stubborn ones. Mind you, I've transferred some of that infertility guilt into garden-variety mother-guilt, and most mothers will know how hard it can be stop those crazy thoughts in our heads.
I'm still working through the negative thoughts I have around our role as adoptive parents in an imperfect international adoption system. But deep down I know that I could not have changed the circumstances that brought our children to us—and certainly not by dwelling on them—just as I couldn’t, and now wouldn’t want to change the circumstances that brought us to them.
The best I can do is to bring peace, and with it acceptance, into my mind.
“Correcting” our minds means stilling our minds. Lao Tzu also said, “To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.”
Correcting our minds means stopping them from trying to control our lives, because they never will. They’ll only control the misery we manufacture for ourselves out of the pain we’ll inevitably experience.
Much of the suffering is all in our heads.
We need to “correct” our minds so that we can use them for thoughtful reflection rather than anxious rumination, so that we can plan and then act without seeking to control everything; so that we can find clarity rather than stress in whatever situation we find ourselves in; and so we can let the perfect wisdom of the universe in.
Perhaps no one’s life is perfect, but I can now feel sure that mine has fallen into place, without even thinking about it.
Photo by Liamfm