By Suma Varughese November 2013 Even the most intransigent of situations can come under control if you ask yourself if it really is such a big deal, says Suma Varughese Points to ponderA few tips from Richard Carlson’s famous book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…. and it’s all small stuff.Repeat to yourself: Life isn’t an EmergencyWe take simple preferences and turn them into conditions for our own happiness. Or, we beat ourselves up if we can’t meet our self-created deadlines. The first step in becoming a more peaceful person is to have the humility to admit that, in most cases, you’re creating your own emergencies.When in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out.This is the epitome of the ‘small stuff.” It will bring far more joy to your life to know that you have done your part and someone else in your family has one less thing to do, than it will to worry and fret over whose turn it is to take out the trash.Be grateful when you are feeling good, and graceful when you’re feeling bad.One of the happiest people I know is someone who also gets quite low from time to time. The difference, it seems, is that he had become comfortable with his low moods.Think of what you have instead of what you wantRather than wishing your spouse were different, try thinking about her wonderful qualities. Instead of complaining about your salary, be grateful that you have a job. If someone throws you a ball, you don’t have to catch itOften our inner struggles come from our tendency to jump on board someone else’s problems; someone throws you a concern and you assume you must catch it and respond. Even something terribly simple like answering your phone when you’re really too busy to talk is a form of catching the ball. I have always been a nervous, anxious kind of person who worried and fretted about everything. It didn’t help that my poor self-esteem filled me with self-distrust and low faith in myself, which made me doubt my ability to cope with the challenges of life, redoubling my angst. I have been working on these aspects of myself for many a weary year, and yet, these emotions continued to dominate my life. Naturally with so much emotional turbulence flooding my being, my poor body often convulsed into illnesses, for unfortunately it became the container for all the toxicity. Apart from two major illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, I recently came down with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which has a direct link with one’s emotional state. The ailment vividly threw up my tendency to move into fear and panic mode, because of its difficult nature. No matter how hard I tried, there were periods when it would not respond to treatment, and furthermore, even when I did find a treatment for it, its efficacy would wane in a month’s time, leaving me high and dry. Quite apart from the therapies, I steadily worked on my mind, using the various insights that came my way to inch closer to equanimity. And I did make progress. Where earlier the failure of each therapy would leave me flailing in frustration and despair, I gradually began to come to terms with the nature of the illness, and accepted that I would have to find a new therapy each time the old one waned. And yet, my whole being was tense and coiled up; I watched my symptoms like a hawk and became even more tense when they took a turn for the worse. I would hopelessly try and propitiate this monster. Perhaps I should eat only select items? Perhaps only a limited quantity? Perhaps I should skip dinner? I hunted for clues that worked and applied them. When I ate something I should not have, I would flail myself mercilessly, and worry enormously about the consequences. My only relief was when I was in company, for then I would relax and temporarily forget about my ailments. Not surprisingly, the symptoms always abated at those times. Recently, I had a bad bout that was not responding to treatment. I had in the meantime shifted to homoeopathy. The homeopath suggested various measures which did not work. Finally in frustration, she told me that homeopathy would take at least four months to work on me and I had to come to terms with it. She told me to stop troubling about ‘minor’ ups and downs. I asked her if I was supposed to wait for four months in order to get relief from the discomfort I was enduring. In response she told me that there were people who were far worse off than me who were coping patiently with their problem, so why couldn’t I? Her question was a revelation to me. Could it be that I was over reacting? Could it be that persistent constipation, while uncomfortable, was not the worst fate in the world? Maybe it was not such a big deal, after all? This to me was a unique perspective, since I was so used to making heavy weather out of all my ailments. And the reason why is because I felt the illness to be bigger than me. I felt myself unable to handle it; I doubted my ability to cope with its discomfort or to take the measures that would help me. For the first time after the homeopath told me off, I entertained the possibility that perhaps this ailment was really not such a big deal. That even if I had its symptoms for the rest of my life, I would be able to cope with it. For the rest of the evening, I was happy, and for the first time in months I stopped focusing on the ailment. Instead, I told my stomach that it could relax – it did not have to perform as I wanted it to, for I could cope with the outcome. This is turning out to be a Eureka moment for me, for as is my wont, I am extrapolating my insight into all situations. Perhaps my eating the wrong things is not such a big deal either, nor are their consequences. Maybe none of my ailments are a big deal either? Because once I stopped resisting them, I could instead focus on healing them. It is hard to explain quite why this understanding has made such a difference to me. Perhaps it has come at a time when I am ready to let go of these persistent worries and anxieties. Perhaps it is showing me that finally I have it in me to cope with life. I do feel as if something that looped me in perpetual anxiety is being sealed off, and I am being released to live my life without quite so much hoopla as before. Ever since I got on to the path and began the process of letting go of my conditioning, shame, guilt and fear have been my constant companions because there was such a gap between where I was and where I wanted to be. This new insight is finally enabling me to let go of these loaded emotions and become softer on myself, and more accepting. Each time I get anxious and tense I whisper the thought to myself that perhaps it is not such a big deal and I find myself begin to relax. When I can’t find the exact word I am looking for while writing an article, the thought makes me relax. When I have forgotten to pay my bills, the thought makes me write out a cheque rather than agonise about my omission. When a friend has done or said something that has irked me, the thought makes it easier for me to come to terms with it. Of late, I have been battling with the fear of not having enough money in my old age. I am now recognising that the fear is not a big deal. And subsequently, I am led to do something about the situation. If dialing down situations can help us to come to terms with it, could this be the secret of coping with stress? Sure enough, all counselors advise us to look for ways to make the situation manageable in our minds. Says Mumbai-based psychotherapist Ameeta Shah, “We become worry warts when we face or have faced some overwhelming situation that we perceive we do not have the resources, internal and external, to cope with.” When she herself underwent a situation like this, she used several methods like positive self-talk, asking the right questions such as: What’s possible here? What do I really want? What will work for me? recognising what is non-negotiable, and what is not, and taking systematic action on a trial and error basis. She says, “Keeping calm means knowing there is some solution and that most often solutions are in different places than the problems. It means looking at your whole situation/life to know what is also working very well for you and feeling grateful too. Most of all, we realise we don’t need to judge anything but rather to figure how to navigate that situation whether it is our fault or anyone else’s fault.” In his best-seller, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff, the author Richard Carlson explains how he came by the title of his book. Apparently the well-known author, Dr Wayne Dyer had written an endorsement for a book Carlson had written. His publishers asked him to try getting another endorsement from Dyer for a foreign edition of another book he had written. When he did not hear from Dyer, he gave up the idea and was appalled to find that the publishers had published the old endorsement in the new book! When he sent a letter of apology to Dyer, the latter wrote back: “Richard. There are two rules for living in harmony. 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 2. It’s all small stuff. Let the quote stand.” Wayne could have made a fuss about the publisher’s unethical action, but he decided to ride the wave instead, thereby saving him and everyone else involved in the situation much anxiety. Carlson’s subsequent book has 100 suggestions on how we can learn to lead happier and calmer lives instead of allowing life to tie us up in a knot (see box). Chitra Jha, a popular writer and facilitator, shares her own journey, “I have always been an intense sort of person, who takes everything rather seriously. I am also an idealist and a perfectionist, so every role I play must
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