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feature: entertainment & lifestyle
July 6th, 2011

The Best Part

Letting go of projections and negative judgments

 
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the-best-part-flash

A friend told me she’d given up negative thinking for Lent this year. “How hard could that be?” I thought. “Way easier than giving up caffeine.” I adopted the practice as well, and found almost immediately that, just as with meditation, I cannot do it anywhere close to perfectly. Or even 25 percent of the time. But, again like meditation, the practice is actually in the noticing that you are not doing it perfectly and gently steering back to friendlier turf. You do this over and over and over, in the way, as Jack Kornfield says, you train a puppy to pee on the newspaper instead of the rug.

And while I didn’t have a single day that was truly free from negative thinking, let alone complaining — which is the audible version of negative thinking — I have to say I was never happier in my life. I didn’t feel as compelled to make everyone do what I wanted them to do. I seemed to be happy just observing and participating when called upon. People delighted me.

Jesus said, famously, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He didn’t say this in a wagging-a-finger, Law-of-Congress kind of way. He said it as the Law-of-Physics kind of fact that it is. When we decide what’s better and worse, what should happen and when, the opinions… are like little arrows stabbing us constantly. Judgments create pain. The Buddha, a tad less famously, said, “Opinions just go around bothering people.”

Best of all, I stopped beating myself up. I didn’t waste my time being annoyed with myself for failing so miserably at the task of thinking positively. I just said, “Oh, well. I am learning. Nice trying!”

The screened-in porch

The difference might be that because I have to drop the thought, I don’t get to fondle it, nurture it, explore all the intricate nuances of how right I am and how wronged I have been — how things really would have been so much better if they’d gone the way I’d wanted them to go; how rotten it is that 77 degrees with fresh strawberries from my garden morphed into a mosquito-filled 95 with the evidence of someone — bunnies, probably — nibbling large holes in said strawberries.

When I would start to feel my jaw tighten and my eyes get hard like a lion about to pounce, or when I felt that queasy feeling in my gut, I would be reminded that this is not good for me and I’d think about something joyful — usually my kids or husband, or my writers telling some crucial bit of truth, or that one detail about my kitchen that is going to completely change my life forever for the better (the filtered hot/cold spigot on my new sink!) — and my mouth would turns up, my forehead uncrinkle, my heart feel peaceful, and the cycle would be broken. It’s as if I have a screened-in porch: before, I was at the mercy of the mosquitoes and yellow jackets; now, I still see them but they can’t get at me.


I got an email from Elle’s preschool that her graduation is scheduled for the same time as my band’s “Jam for the Fans” dinner. I immediately spun into panic mode. I called my sister Katryna and she very calmly told me to just call the school and nicely ask if they can change the date. “Why not?” she said. “The only thing you have to lose is their opinion of you.” So, with great dread (for I care deeply that people hold me in good opinion) I did just that. I even tried to bribe them with an offer to lead the graduates in some stirring folk song appropriate for the occasion — something like Aikendrum.

They did not change the date.

“This stinks!” I thought. “Not only am I missing my beloved daughter’s moment of glory, but I am also missing her classmates whose music teacher I’ve been for the past two years, and all those wonderful parents — friends I have made, shoulders I have cried on as we’ve watched our kids go from diapers and temper tantrums to confident organized almost-kindergartners.

This was one of those negative thinking moments. So I decided to see what might be good about this new state of affairs.

  1. Elle’s grandparents will be in town for my event, so maybe they can see part of their granddaughter’s graduation.
  2. Maybe Elle is meant to be mad at me and see her dad as the good guy; they can have some special time together.
  3. Maybe we can have a special Mommy/Elle celebration some other time. Ditto the kids and their song.
  4. Maybe the fans will tell me to come late to the event and see my daughter graduate.

Funny that Katryna had to think of this last one. It never occurred to me that I could ask my fans (who, after all, are my employers) if they could spare me for an hour.

Jesus said, famously, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” He didn’t say this in a wagging-a-finger, Law-of-Congress kind of way. He said it as the Law-of-Physics kind of fact that it is. When we decide what’s better and worse, what should happen and when, the opinions start ricocheting off any available surface; they are like little arrows stabbing us constantly. Judgments create pain. The Buddha, a tad less famously, said, “Opinions just go around bothering people.”

So much better, so much richer

I wanted to be so comfortably famous and successful by the time I had kids that … Katryna and I would play to sold-out crowds at outdoor starlight concerts and big theatres, then spend the mornings in the lobbies of hotels chasing our kids up and down elegant carpets past flower arrangements the size of my Subaru. I would have it all.

And that didn’t happen. What I have today is so much better, so much richer, primarily because it is real and not a projection of “what if.” A projection misses the mosquitoes and the yellow jackets — rarely do such commonplace villains get written into fantasy.

I am so lucky to have work I adore, work that feels more like a calling than a way to make a paycheck. I wanted to be so comfortably famous and successful by the time I had kids that I’d be able to chuck them in the back of the tour bus with a full-time excellent nanny who would also be one of my best friends and a traveling music teacher who also loved to play soccer, and maybe my bandmates would have kids my kids’ age and we could all go around the country together, one gigantic preschool on the road. The kids would see the country — Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon — as Katryna and I would play to sold-out crowds at outdoor starlight concerts and big theatres, then spend the mornings in the lobbies of hotels chasing our kids up and down elegant carpets past flower arrangements the size of my Subaru. I would have it all.

And that didn’t happen. What I have today is so much better, so much richer, primarily because it is real and not a projection of “what if.” A projection misses the mosquitoes and the yellow jackets — rarely do such commonplace villains get written into fantasy.

How could I have predicted that the best moment of my recent life would be getting to watch my daughter play a variation of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” onstage while my son ran around on the grass outside. The best parts are always your real life. The best parts are when you stop, wherever you are — be it in the middle of your detested job, never-ending afternoon, or peak moment onstage or in the operating room — and find yourself in a state of not judging, of not projecting, of just being present.

Of course the fans understood when I left the dinner early to race across town to see my daughter graduate. I made edamame salad for both events — the fans’ dinner and the preschool potluck — and I led the graduating preschoolers in “Unite and Unite ,” a wonderful folk song from Padstow, England. And the teachers gave Elle her diploma (yes, a real diploma with the signatures of the director, the teachers and the secretary all neatly inscribed) and her magic necklace early so that I could book out of there and race to my Jam for the Fans Nields Open Mic/Karaoke event. At one point, another mom and 5 year old took the mike to sing “Red Red Robin,” which we cover for our Rock All Day/Rock All Night album. She asked if I would help her. By this time, Elle had arrived with her father and grandparents. I scooped her in my arms and we helped the other mom and daughter sing, “Live, love, laugh and be happy.” And we were.

 
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The Author : Nerissa Nields
Nerissa Nields is a musician and writer, best known for her work with The Nields, a folk-rock band that blends sisterly harmonies with smart lyrics, followed by equally smart and loyal fans for the past 20 years, with 15 (going on 16) albums. The author of three books, she runs writing groups and retreats out of her home in Northampton, Mass., coaches writers and artists, and adores her family, striving to honor in equal measure her love of God and love of Earth. Her blogs can be found at nerissanields.blogspot.com ("May Day Cafe" — spiritual/humor) and nields.wordpress.com ("Singing in the Kitchen" — music for families).
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  • Ann W. Turner

    Hi, Nerissa, love this, and because I know you and your family I can see this all taking place, almost like a play. Just to add to this: my friend Paula D’Arcy once said, “God comes to you disguised as your own life.” Can’t say it better than that.

  • Christine

    How right you are, Nerissa. You own version of negative thinking was projecting my own insecurities on other people and expecting them to be critical of my words, actions, decisions, etc. It’s so much easier to love and accept others when you love and accept yourself, and vice versa.

  • kim

    There is this book I read called ” Creating Love”, cannot think of author’s name, but it was a descent book about negative thinking etc. Like a self-help book. It helped me learn to deal with anxiety and panic attacks.

  • kim

    They say ” If you want to change the world, start with your self”. I believe things are simple, people MAKE it all complicated for various reasons.

  • victor

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I don’t know whether we live in a complex world or not but, all I can say is that our attitude makes it even more complex. It’s always possible to make things easier. Thank you again.

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