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I feel such affinity with my four-legged friend, Otis. Off-leash on a walk, he discovers something that is not very good for him but he is compelled to sniff it, and usually ends up trying to eat it (three guesses as to what the “it” often is). When Otis’ owner sees the dog with his nose in something that might lead to gastric distress if eaten, he often barks out a command to Otis, “LEAVE IT!” But of course, Otis cannot leave it that easily. Is it universal, this difficulty with walking away from an “it” that could give us not just gastric distress but mental or emotional distress, too? The muscles needed here are discernment and detachment. First, we have to discern whether a thing, a substance, a relationship, or a situation is potentially harmful to us. We also have to discern whether it is any of our business! Often, it is not. That is when detachment is required. The shortest phrase in service of detachment is “not my problem,” but be careful about saying that out loud because then you might be accused of being heartless. This Leaving It business is fraught with challenges.
In adolescence, you must have had to deal with acne. A bump formed on your face, and sometimes there was building pressure at this site. Were you a wise Buddha who could just leave it? I sure was not. Discernment might have pointed out that picking a pimple never really improved the situation, in the short run, but did I listen to that discernment? Heck no! Was I able to detach from the Mt. Vesuvius growing on my chin? Nope. Just call me Otis.
I am reminded of a visit to my grandmother’s house when I was no more than 10 years old. The moment my Mom and I walked in the back door, it was apparent my grandmother was distraught. Sure enough, her upset came spilling out as we slurped her homemade clam chowder for lunch. The neighbor’s teenaged daughter was pregnant. (This happened in an era when a child born out of wedlock was far more scandalous than it is now.) I lacked the discernment to realize that this was not really my grandmother’s problem. Instead, I joined the ranks of my maternal role models and became someone not too capable of leaving it, either. If she thought it was a disaster, then I assumed she was right! My mother was a true hand wringer. Like her, I can lie awake for hours trying to solve an unsolvable problem and often, the problem is not even mine! This is not a recipe for joy. Leaving it is at least a partial remedy but so much easier said than done. There are those who use recreational substances, and others who use prescribed medications to help with this. Fans of Eastern medicine or practices try herbs, acupuncture, yoga, meditation. I wish I could offer my expertise on the How of Leaving It, but I am an amateur. The only method that I find fairly reliable is physical exercise. If the body is exhausted enough, sometimes that propensity to perseverate is outweighed. Who knows, maybe all we need is to summon an inner voice that tells us to “LEAVE IT!” and may you be the dog who can obey.
What Does Not Help
When someone else says “Leave it” to you, they do not necessarily know what it is like to walk in your shoes. They may not know the history behind your difficulty with leaving it; they may not know all of the contributing factors. The folly of saying “leave it” to another becomes most apparent when the tables are turned. When someone says “leave it” to you, do you find yourself saying “oh yes, I will do that right now?” Rarely. And even if you do agree with the suggestion, are you successful?
What Might Help
To promote detachment, it might help to ask someone, “do you see that as your problem?” rather than just saying you think it is not. Even so, this can be dicey. Imagine if I had asked my grandmother if she thought the neighbor’s daughter’s pregnancy was her problem. I might have been pegged as a smart aleck. I doubt she would have replied with “very good point, my dear.” What Otis’ example teaches me is that when it comes to leaving it, we are the dog but we also have to be the owner. This one is an inside job.
Your February 2015 Prompts for Joy
Click here to see some well-behaved dogs, at mealtime.
Click here for an example of a dog who cannot leave it, until he can!
Many thanks to Claudette Bergman and Peyton Taylor for these dog-themed bits of joy.
All previous Prompts for Joy (PFJs) can be found at my website, unless the video url is no longer functional.
Joy-Gram for February 2015
Notice how hard it is to walk away from something that compels you (even if it is not good for you). Experiment with saying “Leave it!” to yourself, and see if this is a successful strategy for you.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·