How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

angry womanTragedy, like blame and Brunelleschi, is so often a matter of perspective. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to be rational about stuck lids, traffic jams, and computer crashes? These paradigm dependent annoyances are essentially arbitrary; it’s the timeless universals triggered deep in our limbic brains that cause all the huffing and puffing. So how can we tame our reptilian responses and learn to follow Miranda Kerr’s (who better than a supermodel to guide us plebs) most recent life advice and stop sweating the small stuff?

Let’s take a classic example – wish it was hypothetical. Two days ago I turned on my office computer and discovered that an entire chapter of my work-in-progress novel had vanished into thin… into… if I knew where, even metaphorically, I’d be ahead of the game. Instantly, I felt my whole body reacting: sweaty palms, nausea, teeth gnashing rage… the works. My prefrontal cortex couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I knew my only hope of regaining perspective on this paradigm pitfall was to engage with my system as a whole.

Exercise in Engagement: How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

1) (Optional) Begin to loosen paradigm associations/restrictions by performing a quick sense scroll mindfulness meditation – preferably, but not necessarily, in paradigm neutral territory (aka nature).

2) Identify the universal human theme that has been triggered. Since I was already blasting my way through the 5 stages, it was easy to identify ‘loss’ as my emotional theme.

3) Since our brains already process our lives through story, it’s only logical to make use of storytelling as a practical psychological tool. Determine the historical/geographical/situational paradigm that best fits your body/brain’s current system state reaction. My reptilian brain tends to be a bit of drama queen, so my go-to paradigm for almost any piss-off is medieval London during the plague years – not exactly the swingin’ sixties. Story a situation that truly reflects your emotional state, thereby acknowledging your initial reaction with respect and permission. What are the sights, sounds, smells? Characters? Dialogues? Really push it.

4) Take your universal theme into an entirely different paradigm and a story that would warrant an emotional reaction on the opposite end of the spectrum. Play around. Journey your piss-off through time and space to find multiple comparables. Someone stepping on a clay pot I just made in a Roman pottery kiln. Losing my latest obsidian spear point… and finding it again. Change the ending. This is your story. The purpose is to flood your brain with conflicting sets of information to clear the stage for conscious re-framing of your initial circumstance.

5) Return to your own paradigm and decide how big of a deal this really is. I do mean decide. By respecting your initial reaction, and giving it the neural space to temper through alternative storytelling, your thinking will be directed towards a more neutral, rational objectiveness. Any novel necessitates rewrites, so this is just an inevitable part of the process – plus, I’ve still got the handwritten draft. Also, because you’ve loosened your associations, certain paradigm privileges will start to peek through. My office’s air conditioning for one!

This entire process can be performed in under 5 minutes and can save, not just your composure, but your whole day, not to mention more than a few marriages. By some sweet miracle of storytelling come to life, the next morning I found a hidden typed hard copy of my lost chapter in a place I swear I’d already double-checked. But something tells me I’ll be storying new troubles back to the ol’ Thames before the week is out. Must be a human or something… sigh.

Funerals, peas, and a red lipstick kiss goodbye

red lipstick kissWhen my grandfather’s heart stopped this past spring, he used his one last moment of decision to kiss my grandmother goodbye. In a church full of black, she wore her favourite deep red skirt suit to his funeral. She curled her hair, coordinated her makeup, and stood tall and graceful in a scene of unimaginable bravery. Theirs was one of the true great love stories, sustained over half a century by affection, faith, courage, and generosity. There would be space and time for grief, but my grandmother chose that day to celebrate the life and love of her extraordinary man.

What came as a shock to us all, especially to my strong, beautiful grandmother, was that there would be only five short months of space and time before she too would pass – the very day before what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary. Neither would have to spend an anniversary alone. My own extraordinary man and I celebrated our 10th anniversary this August. I’ll always be grateful to my grandparents for offering their unconditional love and support when we got married just 5 short months after meeting.

I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was planning for my part of my grandmother’s eulogy, only that I was bringing a prop. I knew was already taking a risk with my leopard print leggings, but since she’d once showed me a snakeskin print tunic/pants outfit from the back of her closet, I figured I was in good company. When it was my turn to speak, I took a step to one side of the pulpit and up at the front of the church, in full view of friends, family, two Reverends, and the entire congregation, I carefully applied a good thick gloss of bright red lipstick.

Appropriate? Sure! We all laughed, and then of course, I completely fell apart describing how my grandmother always used glamour, not as a mask, but as a celebration of the way she saw the world – and her family – full of promise and wonder, and worthy of the very best she could bring to the table.

Peas and mushrooms recipeIn a literal sense, what a table! Using the delicious and ingenious strategy of cooking healthy dishes (like their famous peas and mushrooms) they teamed up to keep their love story alive and well far past its genetic due date – telomeres be darned! This Thanksgiving weekend was the family’s first without our dear Matriarch and Patriarch. While the gift of the Quebec cottage they built with their own hands will stay with the family (thank heavens!), their Ontrio home, with all its comforting smells, sounds, collections, and textures, is being dismantled for sale. And individual objects, once separated from their context, begin to lose their meaning.

I am a woman who lives through her senses (through rarely common-sense), and this Thanksgiving I gave thanks to my grandparents the best way I knew how. I made their magical peas and mushrooms (my version above). My kitchen was filled with the smells and tastes of tradition. I added some sauteed onions for some next generation flair, and melted in enough butter to have horrified my grandmother. But time stopped for those few hours, and the unfathomable concept of loss was made tangible. Grief took a physical form, as it had with my lipstick, but in doing so became a celebration.

This morning, my man slept through 5 snooze alarms and by 6:30am I was ranting at him for risking being massively late for a 7:30am dentist appointment. Seeing his pensive face (because who likes going to the dentist anyway), I caught myself. To lighten the mood, I threw a sock at his head from the 3 day old pile of unfolded laundry on our bed. He whipped it back and it got me right in the neck! But when the mock battle subsided, I lifted my face to his, closed my eyes, and waited for our sacred ritual – because you never know how much time you have. Gone was the warrior with impeccable aim, here was a husband, giving his wife a kiss goodbye.