I have been an obsessive overthinker my whole life, which is one of the many reasons I write. Where else can all those thoughts go? Certainly they need a little space to move.
So, I write. And often the act of having a conversation with myself on paper is enough to see the obsessive thoughts in a new light or to exorcise them entirely.
I obsess over all manner of things. Many times, it’s fears about or plans for my children’s future that churn and churn. These days I obsess over my teenagers more than ever. They are teenagers after all, and I did make the decision to step back from other work to focus on their growing needs. I am really focused.
Their education, mental health, physical health—all concerns that consume me. A moment in my brain sounds a little like this: Ava’s eating sugar and chips again. Why did I ever bring these things into the house? She doesn’t know how to cook. What if she can’t take care of herself when she moves out. What if she can’t ever move out? Michael wants to eat all day. Is it healthy to be THIS hungry? Where will they go to school in the fall? Is there an emotional and mentally sound environment? Why can’t Ava keep her room clean? When did Michael start getting darkened upper lip hair? What else am I missing?!
Having let all the obsessive thoughts out on paper, I take a breath. Literally. Did you just take one with me? That was a lot to hold inside, I note.
The act of creating words on paper infuses a different energy to the thoughts. No longer locked in my brain, I see them shapeshift. Seeing them in my journal, they look a lot like blue waves rolling across the wide, white ocean. Now they roll on, held outside me. They no longer are me. They are something that can be contained elsewhere, looked at, touched, observed. They will shift and change and one day some other string of thoughts will fill the space they occupied.
This self-observation shifts me to a softer presence. As I pause, I place my attention on my heart. I am no longer sitting high in my head, gripped by my thoughts. I notice, though, that my face still holds some of the tension from all the constriction this obsessing creates. I sit and observe this tension, breathe softly, and as I do, I notice my jaw and then my shoulders start to relax. I smile a little.
This act is a kind of meditation for me. The years I’ve spent sitting, observing breath and thoughts, opening my heart to hold the waves, has brought me closer to a space in which I can ride the rise and fall. I can watch the movement of the waves. Not always immediately, but eventually I remember again to reside in the present, to let it be bigger and more real than the obsession. Eventually I remember I am always held in a vast ocean—all my thoughts, all my worry, all the gripping fear. When I remember to ride the waves, I feel the ocean of awareness it’s all part of.
Writing, meditation, prayer are acts that help me wake up and reside in a wider, more loving awareness. This is where connection begins and how joy becomes possible again. Remembering I am held in this vastness, I rest in a more peaceful place with room to observe rather than remain constricted by the gripping sensation that my thoughts produce.
Longtime teacher, Thich Naht Hanh, who died this past week at age 95, spent his life as a peace activist, reminding students of a softer way to live. He wrote, “Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” Whether or not we are in touch with it, peace.
My focus at the moment seems fairly personal, but it’s also a reflection of the wide world. The inner mirrors the outer in so many ways. In the face of so much to fear outwardly, why should writing or mediation matter? Peace in any form conveys more peace. A turn toward the vastness of loving presence does not mean that the obsessing ends or that it solves the problems. But often the path clears long enough that a better way appears forward. A path I don’t have to control yet am guided upon. A path that provides a whole lot more space to breathe.
What are you currently obsessing over friend? Can you give yourself and your thoughts a little space as you let them out in journal form perhaps? Or perhaps as a poem, a song, or a picture? Maybe sitting in meditation you find yourself become more spacious, the thoughts less overwhelming. Whatever practice allows you to see the waves and reside with a little more peace is the practice for you.
This week I am including a short video I made just before Thich Naht Hanh died. I made it as an offering for the youth (of all ages) in my church community. Perhaps it will offer you a bit of peace in your day.
Join a modest community finding joy in togetherness:
Friday, February 4 • 9am -10:30am
This class will blend yoga movement, contemplation, meditation, and conversation for a new way to explore our practice in community. Covid vaccinations required for in-person practice at the Harmony Space in Shepherdstown. Limited spacing available.
Online practice via Zoom. Video recording sent to all registered guests.
$15 Reserve your spot via text to 401-440-0279.
Advance payment required to Venmo or Paypal.
Paypal to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Venmo to: @Christa-MastrangeloJoyce