Seeking God

The marital hazards of visualization

My husband and I have started going for yoga classes together, and in one of the classes last week, our instructor took us through a visualization meditation process.

We were supposed to first remember a happy moment from our lives, and then later visualize our fondest desire come true.

In the first part, I remembered my loving moments with my husband — well, he was lying supine on the floor right next to me so he was obviously the first thing that came to mind.

Later, I imagined a rosy future for both of us, living in a wonderful place, writing books, earning enough to live a contented life, our children doing well in their careers.

I left the class with stars in my eyes.

In the car, I asked him excitedly: “So what did you think of when she asked you to evoke a happy memory?”

He looked thoughtfully in the distance. “I remembered this one day on the beach. As a child I had tried to swim across to a small island just off the beach, but I didn’t make it.”

My enthusiasm defused a bit. “What’s happy about that?”

He took out his phone and began going through the notifications that had been turned off during the yoga class. “I was happy because I almost made it, I’d covered a lot of distance. It was a good day.”

My mood now completely turned off, I said, “Okay fine, so what did you visualize when she asked you to imagine your biggest dream coming true?”

His gaze still on his phone, he replied: “I visualized swimming across to the island all the way.”

I gave him a piece of my mind.

“What an opportunity wasted! Why couldn’t you wish for something more worthwhile? Don’t you care for me? Here I am thinking all these wonderful thoughts of you and our future, and there you are thinking of swimming!” I shrieked in utter contempt.

He just shrugged it off, now too distracted by the jokes in his WhatsApp groups to bother about my opinion on what he should have been thinking.

Ignoring me in favour of his phone is a frustrating habit of his, but I have learnt to use his indifference as a useful tool for introspection. As he typed away, I gradually stilled my mind and looked within at what had provoked my outburst.

One word: expectation.

I expected him to think the same thoughts as me, to have the same aspirations as me, and to dream the same dreams. To be me inside his head.

It was completely laughable when I looked at it objectively like that.

I was angry because I expected him to love me in the same way I love him. I was upset because I imagined that he had squandered an opportunity to place a “worthwhile” wish before the universe – “worthwhile” by my standards, not his. I was exasperated because it appeared to me that he didn’t seem as wholly devoted to me as I am to him.

Essentially, he had nothing to do with my anger. I was angry because my expectations were not met.

I self-corrected my thoughts as I drove, and was calm by the time we reached home a few minutes later.

Then he forgot his yoga mat in the car and walked on inside, empty-handed except for the phone in his hands and on his mind, smiling at some private joke, oblivious to the world.

I checked my irritation (reminding myself once again: “expectations”), picked up both our mats from the backseat, and followed him inside.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming about swimming.

(I made him feel very sorry about the yoga mat, nevertheless.)

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Seeking God

Singing a different tune

I was in a fury this morning. “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this,” I muttered, as I went about doing a chore I hated. “I don’t want to be this kind of person.” My resentment and bitterness poured out into my actions as I tackled the work at hand viciously.

Somehow, a voice spoke up amidst the angry protestations in my head: “Change the script. Say the opposite. If you have no choice of action, then choose the action instead of resisting it.”

And so I began to say, “I want to do this. I want to do this.” Instantly, a deep sigh escaped my lips, the shoulders slumped, resistance faded and my body relaxed. I continued my chore in a slightly less aggrieved state of mind.

By modifying my train of thoughts, I not only managed to feel better within myself but also resolved related issues with others in an objective, non-accusatory manner. By singing a tune of choice versus choicelessness, I empowered myself despite my limitations and chains. I now remember that this was one of the key messages in Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

Later when all was said and done, I looked at where the resentment began. And it began where the expectation began. Expectation that I shouldn’t have to do this. Expectation of support. Expectation of appreciation for doing it. Expectation is the root of all heartache, said the lovely Shakespeare. When expectations are dashed, disappointment and frustration begin. This truth struck me today in all its queasy glory.

I know all this happened only to show me how to spot and stop restrictive thoughts and replace them with liberating ones. And perhaps a few other humbling lessons in love and acceptance as well. So, dear God, with the inimitable French accent of Steve Martin in Pink Panther, I say unto you, (“Listen very carefully, I shall say ‘zis only once!”):

Thank you for the irritations in my life.

Just ‘zis once. Okay?