Last night, I found myself in one of those negative spirals with my kids that was sucking me down. If you’re a parent, maybe you know it — you observe yourself yelling, knowing full well that it is a really ineffective way to communicate, but you cannot stop yourself because of your mounting exasperation, which is made worse by the fact that your kids are not responding to your ineffective communication…
It’s precisely the kind of situation that would usually make me contemplate fantasies of escape of some kind, usually unproductive fantasies. Indulgent, self-absorbed fantasies. Poison. But somehow I stayed in it and worked through it.
At some point in the spiral my mind said, “Stop Cody, THINK. Breathe. What is the next right step?”
I sent one upstairs. I’d talk to him later. Engage the younger two. Divide the situation into manageable pieces. Give up on some of what I was trying to achieve. And focus on compassion. Especially for my foolheaded self.
I credit my ability to not run screaming to Grace alone. To the gift of years of practice. I have just enough experience in Grace to Stay when it’s Hard. Not enough, mind you, to avoid such frustrating spirals in the first place, but sufficient for that moment. To Stay and not escape into some poisonous thought.
Post mortem in prayer, I realize that my practice could use some brush up. There are spiritual exercises I can do, like those of St. Ignatius, to prepare my mind for Grace in the midst of exasperation. One of my favorites is Lojong Practice. The slogans come from a different culture, but with a little translation, translate well to my own tradition.
It is what we practice that arises to our minds when we are tested. Being a cerebral type, I have always disdained learning by rote memorization. But some skills need to be automatic, and automatic skills come from practice. Learning to Stay instead of escape, for me, comes from cultivating thoughts that will help me derail my spirals. Like these Lojong Slogans…
“Understand Your Attachments, Your Aversions, and Your Indifference, and Love Them All.”
“When Practicing Unconditional Acceptance, Start With Yourself.”
“When Everything Goes Wrong, Treat Disaster as a way to Wake Up.”
“Always Meditate on Whatever You Resent.”
“Accept Good and Bad Fortune With an Equal Mind.”
“Solve All Problems by Accepting the Bad Energy and Sending out the Good.”
I hope I can bring these thoughts to mind at the beginning of my next spiral.