NB – This post was orginally published on Tiny Buddha.com on 9 October, 2012.
If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place. Lao Tsu.
Long before health experts were telling us ‘you are what you eat’, even before Buddha spoke his wisdom, ‘what we think we become’, ancient Chinese sage Lao Tsu mused that we only need to change our way of thinking for our life to fall into place.
Sounds so easy, right? Easier at least than always eating our greens, let alone somehow imagining ourselves into the NASA space program, or up on stage on Broadway! Especially when I suspect what Lao Tsu mostly meant was to stop thinking – or at least stop thinking so much.
Of course we all know the power of positive thought, the law of attraction, of manifesting.
But for many of us, our thoughts often don’t serve us, yet we still think them – better not to think at all!
When we think negatively about ourselves or our life circumstances, when we dwell on our past or angst over controlling our future, when we simply over-think our lives, we effectively stop the universal flow (or stop it moving freely through our lives and thoughts).
And going with the universal flow is the key to your life falling into place.
Thinking ‘correctly’ means aligning our thoughts with the universe – actually using our smarts to go with the flow, rather than being swept along in a flood stream of thoughts, in the maelstrom of our minds.
I didn’t go with the flow when that meant accepting infertility – I rowed and I raged against it. It was only natural that I wanted to change the cruel circumstances I found myself in, to paddle hard and fast against a current of pain that threatened to sink me at times. In seeking fertility treatment we tried to fight infertility the best way we could, but we always struggled against the stream.
We wanted to act to improve our chances, so we sought solace in statistics, in the logic of odds and the reassurance of research, we did the math and rationalised away the doubts. Emotionally I was so numb that I couldn’t feel anything, so I had to think.
But I thought about infertility far too much (read obsessed over it) and pondering the pain made it more gut-wrenching. As though eight failed IVF cycles and an ectopic pregnancy weren’t enough to endure, I relived the pain of each failure over and over in my mind like I was punching myself again and again in the stomach where a baby should have been.
And to the intense sorrow I felt, I attached all these negative thoughts and emotions – of guilt, shame, worthlessness. If I’d thought about it on an intellectual level I might have wondered what I had to feel guilty about – I hadn’t done anything wrong. In my head I created a nightmare even worse than the one I was living – what a gift I gave myself to go with all that sadness!
I over-thought the ‘why me’ (so I became jealous, bitter), I over-analysed the ‘what ifs’ (so I became consumed by fear). I allowed my mind to construct my identity around my infertility and strip away all else.
I allowed my stupid thoughts to define me by what I wasn’t. So I became a non-mother, and when you define yourself by what you aren’t, you effectively become nothing.
In other words, my mind magnified our infertility into one hell of a mighty problem (and it was a pretty big problem to begin with). A problem no amount of thinking could ever fix.
Lao Tsu said it another way – ‘stop thinking and end your problems’.
I don’t think you ever really get over the experience of infertility, even if you give birth. You don’t get over it even when you’re fortunate enough to form a family through adoption, as we’ve been so lucky to do. You do stop thinking about it so much.
I can honestly say I hardly ever think about infertility now. I can, with hindsight and Lao Tsu’s wise words ringing loud in my ears, appreciate the universal flow that led us (down one long and winding river), through the pain of infertility, to our precious children. That very same flow I struggled so hard against!
I don’t regret fighting for a baby through turning to IVF – I do regret fighting so hard against infertility (and myself) in my head, instead of bringing acceptance to our struggles so I could be stronger through them.
Fighting for something is very different to railing against the flow. I’ve learned (the hard way) that while it may worth fighting for something we want (rather than giving up), it’s always futile fighting against the way things are and playing the battle out in our heads.
For me, the pain is still in a place deep inside me I try not to visit too often, but the thoughts of guilt, shame, worthlessness are largely gone now (even the most stubborn ones). Mind you, I’ve transferred some of that infertility guilt into garden-variety mother-guilt and most mothers will know how hard it can be stop those crazy thoughts in our heads.
I’m still working through the negative thoughts I have around our role as adoptive parents in an imperfect international adoption system – the process sets you up to feel guilty from the start and old habits die hard. But deep down I know that I could not have changed the cruel circumstances that brought our children to us – and certainly not by dwelling on them – just as I couldn’t, and now wouldn’t want to, change the circumstances that brought us to them.
The best I can do is to bring peace, and with it acceptance, into my mind.
‘Correcting’ our minds means stilling our minds – ‘to a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders’ Lao Tsu also said.
Correcting our minds mean stopping them trying to control our lives, because they never will, they’ll only control the misery we manufacture for ourselves out of the pain we’ll inevitably experience – much of the suffering is all in our heads.
- We need to ‘correct’ our minds so that we can use them for thoughtful reflection rather than anxious rumination;
- so that we can plan and then act without seeking to control everything;
- so that we can find clarity rather than stress in whatever situation we find ourselves in and;
- so we can let the perfect wisdom of the universe in.
Perhaps no-one’s life is perfect, but I can now feel sure that mine has fallen into place, without even thinking about it.