Avoiding the End of One’s Tether
It’s a good bet you want to simplify your life. If you’re reading blogs about minimalism, something in you feels that there’s too much muchness in the world, too many demands on your time, attention, and resources. Or perhaps they’re the wrong sort of demands, not balanced out by things that give something back to you. Whatever the reason, you’ve experienced being at the end of your tether. You want that feeling to stop, and once stopped, to never recur.
Hanging on by a thread?
Of course, you know that it’s going to recur, and in fact threats to one’s equanimity can occur several times each day in the average life, no matter how simplified. That’s because we can’t control the world around us. We can only control the world within us: our responses and priorities.
It’s something that’s come up frequently in the past week or two, and not only in my own day-to-day life. Over at the Raptitude blog, David Cain has a different take on the old Serenity Pledge: acceptance isn’t the same as resignation. You can accept that things are as they are, and yet choose to change them. The key is accepting reality instead of railing against it. Just the phrase, “accepting reality,” sounds so sane, doesn’t it? Cain uses spilled milk as an example. If you just accept the fact that it’s spilled and mop it up, you’ll preserve your equanimity better than having a tantrum about it first before having to mop it up anyway.
A family member mentioned something similar yesterday over coffee. I think it was decaf coffee, too. Things that used to send him into the throes of despair and frustration no longer do, and not because they stopped happening–he just looks problems in the face now and takes the next logical step, which is often just taking a step back. He’s become much happier and more productive for it.
Fraughtness leads to more fraughtness. I’ve gone through clusters of lid-flipping, where getting upset about one thing creates an internal state that makes getting upset about the next thing a near-certainty–I get to the end of my tether. A lot of us do that. It’s toxic, isn’t it? Even after a long stretch of time where I don’t get overly bothered by things, I occasionally slip into the old fraught habit and become my own worst enemy until I get a grip and take that first crucial step back from my own initial reaction and just deal.
One way of accepting reality is to bloom where you’re planted. I’d like to live where the climate and culture are more congenial–I’m certain that I’d be more inspired, productive and healthy. Moving is out of the question for the foreseeable future, yet I can’t put off finding ways of living life as fully as possible–I just might run out of time altogether before being able to move elsewhere. So I’ve made my peace with the place, with my circumstances, and have learned to become a writer in the life I actually have, without waiting for the life I think I’d prefer. Sometimes I’m even able to step back enough to see that I’m actually living the life I want already–living elsewhere might present a different set of problems that I’d have to accept and work around. A net gain isn’t guaranteed.
Fortunately, equanimity leads to more equanimity. The more you accept reality in the first instance, from the trivial matters like spilled milk, a lost button, a broken plate, to more complicated matters like the hard drive crashing in the middle of a project or a co-worker whose daily highlight is lying to the boss about you, the more likely you will develop the chops to face life’s harsher realities with fortitude and grace. It’s a kind of habit of being.