Tax stuff freaks me out. Legal matters freak me out. So it’s no wonder I found myself this past Monday in a bit of a crisis state as my anxious self considered a looming tax deadline with complications and a letter threatening to take me to court. I am not a person who does well under this kind of pressure!
The court threat is for using an image on my website that I thought I was free to use, given that I found it on hundreds of other sites. The tax crunch came because, through a series of events not all within my control, my taxes were being worked out in the final days before the IRS deadline and there was a bunch of income showing up as mine that actually belongs to an organization I work for.
I found myself all discombobulated as I tried to wrap my head around my tax information and tried to will my tired brain to work through more numbers. I felt tightness behind my sternum, shame blindsided me and I felt disconnected with a sense of impending doom.
Enter: my mindfulness and self-compassion practice.
Firstly, I found a moment of calm and checked in with my accountant about the absolute last minute he could process my tax return, and I found a day’s grace to have it all sorted out. This is partly relational practice (connecting with the person who actually had the answers rather than me catastrophizing) and partly a mindfulness practice of finding space and willing my rational brain online in the midst of the emotional flailing.
Secondly, I connected with my favorite practice partner, my husband. I told him about my anxiety and shame, and together we did some troubleshooting and came up with a plan of action. His mindfulness, from a more objective vantage point, was contagious. My mirror neurons picked up on his calmness while my affiliative system felt his nurturing – I caught both equanimity and comfort from him in that moment.
Practice needn’t be complicated. All we need to do is find one good practice and we’ll develop emotional resilience and self-sufficiency.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I recognized the emotional flailing and I sat still on the couch. I knew that a part of me was being neglected in all of this, and that she was suffering. I tuned into my inner small child and she simply said, bewildered, “Where did everybody go? I am so confused.” I pulled a fluffy blanket toward me (my replacement for a pet), closed my eyes, sank my fingers into the blanket and rested. I saw her pain, and I simply stayed with her kindly, patiently and tenderly. Other parts of me vied for attention – an anxious planner in me wanted to drag my mind away, but I brought it back to the child at my center. An inner critic started to rant as inner critics do, but I ignored her and brought my mind back to center. And as I sat with her, her bewilderment dissipated, her wide eyes relaxed, her demeanor became very still and content. We sat there together for some time, simply keeping each other company. And it was beautiful.
Practice needn’t be complicated. All we need to do is find one good practice and we’ll develop emotional resilience and self-sufficiency. I wasn’t able to prevent the anxiety and shame spiral, but I did have the presence of mind to know to take care of as much business as needed to be taken care of, and then to direct my loving attention inside.
Having a practice doesn’t mean we’re necessarily always equanimous (although there is the potential for growing periods of equanimity in our life). Having a practice means that when we are tossed in the ocean of emotion, we have a life raft to grab on to. And the more we practice reaching for the life raft, the more readily we’ll remember it’s there.
What’s your go-to practice? How do you find buoyancy in the midst of life’s struggles? I’d love to hear what works for you (I loved hearing your “coming home” stories last week!). Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect. And if you’d like to have a fellow paddler hanging out with you, maybe we can do some work together as part of the Radical Emergent Self-Wisdom mentoring program. If you’re not sure what your life raft looks like, we will find it!