The Only Way to Win

7:24 AM

 

The mind is a scary place. Do not go in there alone. 


Although this phrase has been repeated by many people in many circles, it was my sister her shared this piece of wisdom with me.


And she was right to do it.


I have a habit of bouncing back to anxious thought patterns like a boomerang. Compulsion. Like a rat who keeps slapping the sensor in the cage knowing that there will be an instant reward.


What exactly have I been awarded by nurturing this habit of mind?


From the compulsion standpoint, standing knee deep in the miry swamplands of worry and dread, focusing on the ticker tape stream-of-consciousness that feeds me all of the possible disaster-scenarios on the horizon of potential…well, this exhausting practice is simply a form of hyper-vigilance.


For people who are in severe distress, particularly for long periods of time, repetition of hyper-vigilant thought patterns become ingrained. It’s a tough habit to break.


There’s a drive behind it, this need to keep one’s eye on the ball. Still, does hyper-vigilance pay?


If analyzed closely, I guess I have to admit there have been a few times that being a watcher-on-the-wall has served me. I might not have been able to see something coming down the pike that could have had a more-negative-outcome…if I hadn’t been uber-attentive.


But if there’s a problem here, it’s buried in the premise.


Hyper-vigilant-me is always trying to think ahead, read the room, block potentially negative outcomes, prepare for the worst. But because of my history, it’s what I’m preparing for, and what I’m trying to block, that is off base.


Here’s the faulty premise: if I pay close attention to my relationships, to patterns, to behaviors, and even more pervasive, moods, I can manage the emotional lives of not just myself, but also others around me.


It’s taken me a long time to get to the bottom of this because I was driven and reactive, as opposed to thoughtful and responsive. In other words, I was doing what I was doing without knowing why I was doing it.


When we get to the bottom of the memes that drive our patterns of thought and behaviors, it’s not unusual to find fault lines… weak foundations upon which we have built unstable lives and relationships.


Bottom line, I can’t control anything other than my own actions and responses and behaviors. Trying to do so is Sisyphean in nature… pushing a boulder up to the top of the mountain only to see it roll back down.


Based on clear-headed evaluation, compulsive hyper-vigilance is more destructive than it is helpful. Huge investment, minimal reward.


Peace isn’t achieved just by picking off one negative thought at a time; attempting that practice is like playing the classic Galactica video game in which the invaders continued to be more aggressive and attack more quickly until inevitably, the player will lose.


A variation on the gaming theme, in the 1983 film entitled War Games, starring Matthew Broderick, the young hacker accidentally breaks into the government’s nuclear database and begins a terrifying game with the military base’s computer. The computer’s program believes it’s engaged in war game and prepares to fire a nuclear weapon, for real.


In the climax of the movie, it appears that nobody can regain control of the computer’s belief that it needs to fire the weapon, and it is only when Broderick’s character introduces the computer’s program to tic-tac-toe that it can understand the concept of an unwinnable game. 


The resolution of the film offers an unmistakable conclusion:


The only way to win is not to play.


And the only way to win at anxiety-gymnastics is not to play.

So…here are three solid tools for surviving mental war games.


Awareness:


Anyone facing anxiety really benefits from a daily meditation practice that’s authentic, consistent, and compassionate. If you need support, find a meditation group, or contemplative prayer group, and just get on the path.


Among the many gifts meditation can offer, it will help you calm yourself and know your patterns, your habits of mind that aren’t serving.


Substitution:


Sometimes, we need a new gear, or a different track. A gentle redirect.


If our minds are used to returning again and again to similar patterns of worrying or unproductive fixing, we need to stop doing what we’ve always done and just change the channel.


Here’s another short essay on this for reinforcement.

 "Rut Jumping: Home by Another Way"


Faith:


I know…I have a lot of nerve barging into something this personal, but whatever your faith tradition…lean into it, and be present.


Let go of the destructive habit of looking behind you, or seeking relief in future-gazing for deliverance.


Help is always here and now, not then or there.


Ask for help.


We can ALWAYS decide, make a choice, to take in the sights and sounds of the present moment including smells, movement, tastes, touch. Infuse the moment with acceptance and gratitude, and you’re on your way.


Like I said, sometimes, the only way to win is to not play those games.


"I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me."

Hermann Hesse, Demian


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