Ah, my sweet bed. A comfy, cozy haven. I love being tucked safely under the covers in peaceful bliss. All is well. And then . . .the night visitors arrive. Those pesky thought intruders that come unbidden at random times but are most reliable in the early morning hours. As I slowly start to wake up they appear at the threshold of my consciousness and enter without waiting for an invitation. They’re often a decidedly dark cast of characters and I really wish they’d take up residence at a Motel 6 instead of in my head. On occasion, there are a few lighter visitors, the thought equivalent of Girl Scouts selling cookies. I welcome those, who doesn’t like a little Thin Mint thought? But it’s the others that fill me with dread.
Usually the thoughts announce themselves with a question. “Is today the day?” When I was much younger the questions would have been full of youthful drama. Is today the day I fall in love? Get into graduate school? Sail off on a schooner? But now the thoughts are harbingers of existential dread. Is today the day it happens? “It” is not a good thing. Is today the day my body fails me? My brain betrays me for good? Or the most terrifying of all, is today the day I become incapacitated and dependent on others for everything? These are not totally irrational thoughts. We all have a “use by” date and I’m approaching mine but where’s a little denial when you need it?
Since this is not the crowd I’d invite for house guests I work on escorting them out but they don’t go easily. Hints are ineffective. Getting annoyed only causes them to hide for a moment before they reappear like a drone on the horizon. The more I try to actively push them out, the more they push back. So I give in. Sometimes I just observe them like leaves floating on a river. Sometimes I try to actively invite other thoughts into my mind. I seek out positive possibilities where I can find them. Maybe today’s the day it’s going to be a nice morning and I could enjoy a moment outside with a cup of coffee. Maybe today’s the day I get to have lunch with a friend. Or perhaps today I get to run my dog in agility. Unlike the dark visitors that push for center stage these thoughts need to be drawn out. Actively engaged with. Since denial has never been in my repertoire I have to consciously alter my focus to something hopeful and life affirming because staying in bed and contemplating the menu of mayhem that could befall me is a waste of the moment and doesn’t end well. I’ll bet the Wicked Witch was having a pretty good day until that house fell on her. If she’d squandered her time worrying about Dorothy she would have missed out on some witchy pleasures in the meantime.
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” ~Leo Buscaglia
Having intrusive thoughts of existential worry does not mean you’re crazy or abnormal. For most of us, it’s just a part of the human condition. Don’t berate yourself for your thoughts but try not to keep looking for the house that could fall on you. Turn to the simple pleasures of the moment. Sip and savor.
Here are some good reads on mindfulness to consider: