The other night, I almost ruined our entire evening (which could easily have soured the whole weekend) by allowing a thought to grow, unchecked.
Thanks to a couple of sleepovers, Hunter and I found our load temporarily (and pleasantly) lightened and decided to do the only sensible thing under the circumstances: eat out.
Upon explaining our evening plans to the one remaining child, Estella and I exchanged excited grins. “We can ride our bikes there!!” she shouted, remembering her brand new Trail-a-Bike at the very moment I did and dancing around the living room in anticipation.
A brief history: When my eldest daughter was four and five, she and I lived within biking distance of my college and her preschool. For two years, we tandem biked all over that part of town — to school, to get groceries and to visit friends (including Hunter). We climbed “the big hill” every day (testing my strength and her resolve), we learned which roads to avoid due to dogs or unfriendly traffic and we shared many a grin while dodging potholes or waving to folks in passing.
So, when I realized that Tulum is great for biking (and that our last kid isn’t getting any younger), I ordered a Trail-a-Bike, finagled it through customs and now here it was — freshly assembled, road tested and glowing with promise and nostalgia.
“Hey Dad, we can ride bikes to the restaurant!!!!!!!” Estella’s excitement was contagious.
“Yeah, awesome! Let’s do it!!” Now we were all grins.
“Ohhhhh wait, shoot, uh hold on,” he said, scanning the room. “Hey Beth, have you seen the cotter pin?” (You know, that miscellaneous piece that connects the Trail-a-Bike to the parent bike).
“No, why? Why isn’t it on the bike?”
“Because I took it off in a hurry the other day and left it on the ladder that the crew used all week.”
“Huh,” I said, hemorrhaging enthusiasm.
In raced a herd of uninvited thoughts, quite without warning:
“Ugggh, he’s SO unorganized,” followed by,
“We are always waiting on him,” and then,
“Of course he lost the cotter pin. He is always losing his shit. Wasn’t it his phone just this morning?” and,
“Why does he assume I know where it is? I already have four kids,” and finally,
“So much for our awesome evening.”
Along with the unsolicited thoughts came a parade of emotions: irritability, impatience, judgement, a sense of urgency and a hint of anger. My body grew tense, my mind critical and my spirit unyielding all within the span of about 12 seconds.
The shift was so quick and profound, in fact, that it startled me to my senses, though not before I had managed to transfer my negativity to the perceived perpetrator with a simple, sarcastic suggestion of inadequacy, “Really, Hunter?” accompanied by a perfunctory eye roll.
He immediately reflected my irritation, turned on his heals and went back outside to continue his search, only now in a bad mood. “Yes, REALLY, Beth. I can’t find the freaking cotter pin,” he mumbled in passing.
Having been through this drill a few (thousand) times now (an unnecessary, unforeseen household drama instigated by the party most attached to the original idea), I quickly noticed the story I had allowed to form based on an initial thought I’d not bothered to check for truth, the way it had thoroughly affected my mood, my feelings toward the man I adore, now HIS feelings and even those of my girl, who had been absorbing the whole scene.
I inhaled deeply, exhaled audibly and let the toxicity drain from my mind and body. Within another 12 seconds, I was back to center. Suddenly, logically, the only thing to do was look for the cotter pin (duh). I swear, it felt as if I had been dosed by Pollyanna. “Good thing you’re so good at finding things!” I engaged Estella, cheerfully. “Yeah, and good thing it’s not totally dark yet!” she added, obviously relieved. We set off hand in hand on a hunt for the missing link.
Turns out, the piece was nowhere to be found, and again, the tinge of irritation was there, just below the surface. “Dang, no bike ride. I’ve so been looking forward to this,” I thought, and then let that story go, too. “Oh well,” I assured myself as well as Estella, “We’ll find it tomorrow when there’s more light.”
As I made a move for my car keys, excited once again for our date night, Hunter busted out one of the many qualities that redeem him of his disorganization. “We don’t even need the cotter pin. Just hang on. Hey babe, have you seen my pliers?”
I smiled, so grateful for my resourceful, if scattered man, produced his pliers, and he proceeded to twist up a perfectly secure alternative with a nail and a bit of wire.
We rode our bikes to the restaurant after all (you’ve never seen so many disbelieving, grinning Mexicans),
enjoyed a lovely dinner and I apologized for being so quick to react. As he does so well, Hunter let it go without another thought.
I, on the other hand, have been thinking of the incident ever since:
- Of how profound the affect of a thought can be our moods and relationships.
- About how often the stories we tell ourselves are really the farthest thing from the truth.
- About how much we limit ourselves by allowing for only one version of an experience.
- About how the simplest shift in perspective can mean the difference between misery and bliss
- And how profound change is really nothing more than heightened awareness within everyday normalcy.
Since that simple, yet obviously SELF sabotaging incident, I have been oiling a tool of emotional management that had clearly grown rusty from Tulum’s harsh weather (good an excuse as any) and decided to give it an acronym so I’m more likely to remember it.
My brand spanking new NOW BREATHE tool is nothing more than a quick way to pull me back to the truth of the moment, based on a few concepts I’ve picked up here and there through the years:
- Notice that I just told myself a limiting story.
- Offer a new story, stating facts instead of judgements.
- Wait to react until I’m once again open to the world of possibility.
- BREATHE throughout the entire process.
Looking back at the Trail-a-Bike incident:
- I was able to catch the thoughts and story fairly quickly (because I’ve been training that muscle for years).
- “We were going to ride bikes but now we can’t because Hunter is unorganized,” easily becomes something else altogether when I drop the judgements. “We were going to ride bikes and now we are going to wander through the yard at dusk on a cotter pin hunt.” Even, “We were going to ride bikes and now we are going to drive the car” is much more truthful and emotion-neutral. Replacing BUT with AND is often all it takes to open back up to the world of possibility (thank you Benjamin Zander).
- Even the simplest, “Really, Hunter?” before I had shifted my story spread the toxicity of my initial thoughts to two other people.
- Breathing is key for me. It’s like a lifeline, reconnecting me to NOW and energizing the part of me that knows its way back to center.
Cheesy? Maybe, but I’m okay with that. If it means more truth, less bullshit and deeper connection? I’ll take cheesy, ALL DAY.
Because the TRUTH of the Trail-a-Bike story is quite different than the mess I nearly made of it:
The TRUTH is that I admire my husband’s resourcefulness much more than I’m bothered by his lack of organization.
The TRUTH is that Hunter has a nostalgia of his own about Trail-a-Bikes. After all, he once fell in love with a blonde-haired girl who pulled her daughter past his house every day on her way to school.
The TRUTH is that Hunter is a shining example of inclusive thinking and “AND instead of BUT” acceptance, and has been since the day I met him. After all, the man didn’t say, “I want to marry her but she has a kid.” He said, “I want to marry her AND she has a kid.”
Thirteen years later, the story is just getting good, and the possibilities are truly endless…
“In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold.” ― Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility