“The whole fight would've been avoided if I had remembered not to defend.” “I forgot to tune in to the pain body, so I couldn't get out of my head.” “I was so thrown off I forgot all about dropping judgments about myself and the reaction I was having.” Clients often bring me their dismay at what they fail to remember in the moment.
I've written about catching yourself in the old way after you've set a new intention. (It's ch. 18 of Scooch!: Edging into a Friendly Universe, called "The Power to Change.") There, I emphasize that you can celebrate catching yourself—and then don't even bother with that first twirl-and-strike of the whole self-flagellation routine. In fact, think of it as step two in a three-part process: 1) set an intention for the new way, 2) catch yourself doing it the old way, and 3) course-correct toward the new intention.
Catching yourself is good: it's the doorway between the old way and the new. In this writing, I want to look at the point of remembering—the moment you catch yourself. I want to invite you to create a lot of spaciousness around what's acceptable to you in terms of when you get there. Short version: Anytime is brilliant.
Here's a totally random story from some random woman's life: we'll call her Jaya. If you're anything like her, you may, as she did, catch yourself giving—no, having given—your son the third terse lecture (in that many days) that went on too long about something that wasn't that big of a deal or even fully his fault. (My inner defender puts in, They didn't go on half as long as the lectures used to—but honestly, three sentences in and you're probably into useless reiteration.) So there it is, you caught yourself late in the game.
What are your options? The most popular by far is self-flagellation, and, Americans, it's still on sale since Black Friday because you'll probably need extra to get through the holidays. Another option is to sit in the reality of where you are right now. That is, connect to and accept what's actually happening. It doesn't feel good to do this, especially if you have some story going about how you shouldn't be here, you should be beyond this, you should catch yourself much earlier in the process (none of which can be true, because here you are).
So okay, it doesn't feel good to be still with what is and let it be. Still, it (really, truly) doesn't feel worse than self-flagellation, and it's much kinder, because it's just a matter of aligning with what's actually happening. In other words, it involves a letting go into what is, not a straining, stretching, contorting into what isn't. And while you're aligning—in the release and relief of that—there's the possibility of allowing or accepting. There's the possibility of what Byron Katie calls loving what is, but if that language feels too strong or somehow false, how about nonresistance? The very word brings in expansive breath.
(Parenthetical, potentially life-changing musing: What if you didn't judge yourself, ever?)
So I was sitting in the reality of where I was that day, in the driver's seat of the Ithaca Carshare pickup truck (named Beau), with my son in the passenger seat, and Silence sulking between us. But not for long, because I used the moment of remembering (that NOW moment) to fully take in and accept where I was—that being the tail end of that third lecture in so many days and the dismay of finding myself so off. I duly noted that I felt rotten about where I was, and directed some breath to the pain body, that place in my chest that likes to scream like a muted pressure cooker when things aren't going so well. I tell my clients to access the witness in those moments, and if you find you're witnessing with judgment, see if you can just scooch toward the compassionate, dispassionate witness. I scooched.
Then I spoke frankly to my son. This went something like, “Buddy, I realize that I've been off for a few days and it upsets me to see myself being this way. I hate hearing myself talk to you this way. I'm a real fan of getting okay with whatever's happening and not thinking there's a problem, but look, I seem to keep reacting like there's a problem. I'm sorry for how that's affecting you. You know, it's possible to just say to someone calmly [here I inserted the super short and entirely neutral version of what I'd just lectured tersely about] and not go [here I inserted some obnoxious noises that were like a meaner version of how adults spoke in the old Charlie Brown cartoons].” (For the younger set: never any words, just semi-musical sounds used as filler to indicate the cartoon kids were stuck listening to and having to respond to what some grown-up was saying that of course had no import to them.)
My son said something along the lines of, “I'm glad you notice all that, and [little smile creeping in] I'm really glad you know exactly what it sounds like.” This guy happens to be the best sport on the planet, and as soon as this exchange happened, it was over for both of us. (That is, besides my mental note to get quite clear with myself about what was throwing me off, which I later did—this requires trust that you will indeed get to it and that life or Source or the Universe, in the meantime, will hold it for you; thus, you can truly let it go for now and get present to the business at hand.) We had the truck because we were going to a tree farm to cut our own Christmas tree, and it was the day a bunch of Newfie dogs would be there to haul trees for people, so it was lovely to be there free and clear of tension. We had a great time and got the best tree ever, and a big happy dog named Captain did the drag-it-back-to-the-truck part.
It's astonishing to me how often I remember to live in ease and joy and kindness and love. It's amazing that I can be light and present and connected so very often. The fact that I used to be a moody, depressive, overwhelmed victim accounts for the if-I-can-change-anyone-can mentality I bring to my work with clients. I honestly wasn't sure I could. And the thing that accelerated the improvements most was to stop judging myself, my process, how long things took, what I found myself doing again, and so on. (What if you didn't judge yourself, ever?) I learned to drop judgments (not stay out of judgments) and question my thoughts about everything (not be without thoughts) thanks to The Work of Byron Katie. When I started applying all of that to my judgments about myself and the things I believed I could or couldn't be, do, or have—that's when life started getting really good.
Bring nonjudgment to the point of remembering. It doesn't matter at what point in the process you catch yourself. When you remember, you're there: You've remembered! You've caught yourself! Excellent! You may prefer to catch yourself when your tone first has the slightest edge of irritability or dismay, but honestly?--you may be in full-blown yelling mode when you come to. You may want to catch yourself when you first speak whatever hints of victim because it contains some I have to, or I can't, or something about how much you do and how hard you work and it's all on you—but you could in reality be two weeks into resentful tones and tense reactions before you notice what you're up to. It may feel great to catch that first nano-flash of your spouse warping weirdly into your parent, way, way, way before you start that pointless and misdirected resisting or confronting or sinking into whatever emotional ploy makes them quit what they're not even really doing. … Ah, dreamer, let it go. Sometimes you might catch yourself that early, and sometimes you just won't. Wherever you catch yourself is good.
With that established, how might you remember earlier, or maximize your chances of remembering before being off for three days or weeks or months? On some level, you have to seek to hold onto what you're up to; that is, you need some system to keep it in view. In other words, if you have a vision, you need something to help you hold the vision. (I say there are just three things to do with a vision: have a vision, hold the vision, move toward the vision.) Because you're amnesiac by nature, like every other human being, put something in place to support you in keeping the new vision close at hand. If not, what's close at hand is the old well-rehearsed and -reinforced default, which you've taught yourself to go to for years and years. (This is already true if you're even 21.)
You can do this by having a written statement of what you're up to that you review often (daily is lovely; having a day of the week when you sit with it again and check in with how you're doing works too). Post a reminder in a place you'll see it often—or several places: by the kitchen sink, near light switches, on the steering wheel of the car, on your bedside table, in a drawer. Find an image (or a statement in a cool font) that evokes the intention and set it as your computer's desktop background or your phone's lock screen. Talk about it, journal about it, blog about it. Create a piece of art about it and place it where you'll see it. Whatever you're up to, give it enough energy and attention and resources to keep it in view, keep it current, keep remembering.
It's so easy to forget. It's not that hard to remember, though; in fact, remembering is effortless—it just happens when it happens. It 's a pretty sure bet that you're more likely to remember if you don't make remembering a miserable affair—justification to be awful to yourself. Love remembering, having fully expected to forget, and step into the remembering anywhere you catch yourself in the process: before your big toe even dips in is as good as when you're up to your thighs in it or well over your head. NOW is the only time you can call yourself back anyway. Now is all you've got for stepping toward your vision. Now is truly all you need: it's the only point of remembering possible.
Love & blessings, Jaya