Addendum to Tennis Ball Girl

12:06 PM

A while back, I wrote a post about my inner Tennis Ball Girl, a reflection on the origin of my need-to-please. In it, I admit my kinship to those boys and girls who are trained to "rush in at the first evidence of a ball out of play," extending the metaphor to concede, "although these kids are probably highly trained and rehearsed at their role, a role that is perched at the cutting edge of the game as it is played by the best of the best, they are not in the game themselves. They spend their working hours watching, waiting, supporting."

Also from Tennis Ball Girl, "We certainly don't get to design our original family relationships or the roles we played as kids, but we can accept responsibility for the faulty assumptions incubated within those relationships that continue to echo and influence the way we react to others. If feeling less-than inhibits our ability to be present with others, or to offer an authentic and heartfelt contribution, then we may need to let go of it like the bad habit it is." 

But "feeling less-than" isn't the only dynamic at play here. 

Somewhat paradoxically, I also have the tendency to react as if I were the primary stabilizing influence in the lives of the people I care most about. Frankly, it's imbalanced and more than a little arrogant.

I believe in compassionately responding to the needs of others, and it gives me joy and a sense of purpose to do so. When it comes to the ratio of time spent fixated on self, over time spent investing in others, I want to continue to tilt the scale in the direction of others. It throws water on an ego that's on fire most of the time, and it also encourages me to make a contribution, to use my powers for good and not just serve my own self-interests. 

But the definition of compassionate response doesn't include the employment of anxiety driven control mechanisms. 

Not-enough-stuff mixed with hyper-vigilance carves out a behavioral rut that I need to be aware of and own because it absolutely has an impact both on me personally, and on the others for whom I feel (inappropriately) responsible. 

Here's what I am starting to notice since I wrote that last post.

When I wake up in the morning, in my first few minutes of consciousness, I almost always notice an appealing pool of anxiety that's waiting for me, beckoning me to stick a toe in and test the waters; I suspect this has something to do with the gravitational pull of familiarity. First, I notice the feeling of dis-ease, then I start to brood over my own consciousness to find a focus for the existing anxiety. In other words, since the sensation of worry exists, I look for what to worry about. Or whom.

Yep. The aim is to control the future because of what has happened in the past

But at some point, no-longer-relevant coping stategies become cumbersome, overstuffed baggage that can turn any simple activity into a deep march through the heart of a boggy swampland. Something's gotta give.

So, how do I bypass my urge to control everything and everyone around me?

Here's what I'm learning in real time. 

This morning, when I sensed the pattern as I woke, I responded by simply focusing on it, making a conscious choice to notice. I noticed myself honing in on the first flush of anxious chemistry, and I also noticed that I was skimming my pool of consciousness for what I could be worried about. That's it. I just noticed it. 

Then, I did something a bit different: I welcomed the anxiety, and thanked it for looking out for me in the past. And I told it I was willing to let it go.

A little while later, I paused and allowed my mind to reflect on what I was tempted to worry about and how that worry might tease me into action. This led to another simple conclusion.

My life is on an individual trajectory, one that is influenced by my circumstances, experiences and beliefs. The same is true for the people with whom I interact, and although our trajectories intersect, and we want to be present with others when they reach out, it is simply not appropriate to assess and map the courses of those we care about

I can lovingly and compassionately respond when called upon without running ahead, trying to anticipate what need might arise while planning a preemptive course of action; it's nothing short of control, and control isn't love.

"Oddly,  my tennis ball girl is still running the same drills, occasionally expecting the same results... old habits are hard to break."

But not impossible. 

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  1. Great post,Laury. I love the line,'The aim is to control the future because of what has happened in the past.'-that's powerful and one that, I'm sure' so many of us can relate to. I recently read something that I printed out and hung on my bathroom mirror. I apologize that I don't know who said it but it's awesome: "There is no rationale for some of the things that happen to us. But finally there is gratitude."


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