Right up at the top there, under the title Just Add Father, it says the word mindful.
A lot of nerve I have, using that word. I dream, hope, and aspire to see with clarity, but sort of stumble on and on, in a fog of unknowing. Oblivious is my middle name.
One day I found myself looking at a drawing, a comic book sort of drawing, reproduced above, which I immediately recognized as myself. It’s a diagram of how mindfulness goes awry.
Above the horizontal line is the realm of illusion, the quest for the perfect life. That’s me, questing. Or you. Pick an image to go in the questing frame: the perfect life, job, lover, child, the perfect house, the perfect you. Doesn’t matter.
I can’t tell you how miserable I’ve been made by the ideal images I hold in my head. Perfection doesn’t move. It’s marble constant, as fixed and out of reach as the North Star.
Below the line is real life. It’s constant movement, going from one little circle, one event, one project, one encounter, one whatever, to another. The dots inside the little circles? I love this—they’re little turds. Which is what real life is full of. Michelle Obama’s life? Turds. Warren Buffet’s life? Turds. Brad and Angelina’s life? Turds.
Barry Michels and Phil Stutz, the therapists who came up with the drawing, suggest looking at it every morning. Not so much to point out that life is little turds, although that’s not bad. But to encourage mindfulness. This is what Michels says:
You’ll become more accepting of yourself and stop judging yourself against an impossible standard. You’ll deal with difficulties calmly and rationally as a natural part of life. You’ll begin to feel a sacred kind of wisdom in events, even the bad ones. This builds faith.
I get disappointed a lot. I need faith. That’s what appeals to me here. Enlightenment? Give me turds. I can believe in turds. Welcome to Earth.
Michels and Stutz have other drawings. Ever since I encountered them, I’ve wanted to mention them here. I’ve hesitated because there’s such an abundance of advice in the bloggy sea, the nine billion names of happiness and so on, and most of it does no good.
But I like these drawings. First of all they’re drawings, worth a thousand words. Second, they’re so dopey and unpretentious looking that you drop your guard. They lull you in, and the sagacity sneaks up on you. People said that about Abraham Lincoln.
I made a booklet out of the drawings, a sort of talisman, to carry with me. I looked at it every day for month. Then I got it. The drawings are not advice. They’re spells.
I was carrying a book of spells.
SPELL FOR DETACHMENT
The one to the left is called Loss Processing. It’s the follow-up to the first drawing. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of things: possessions, people, perfection, wounds. I process loss daily.
The little man in the bubble at the top is me, or you, holding on to something. But really, it’s already lost. What’s needed is the spell for detachment. It works like this: Imagine holding the object of attachment, then let go of it. You fall. You fall backward through space, through grief, regret, unimaginable terror. Fall and fall and fall, right into the sun, and be vaporized. Annhilated. Pfff.
All that’s left is your consciousness, which is now merged with the sun.
I’m always having to let go of my big plans, all the recognition and rewards I don’t get. I know that when I allow the experience, it feels terrible. Annihilation, as an outcome, is pretty bleak. But something else happens in the drawing.
“Feel the tremendous force of the sun radiating outwardly,” says Michels, “Expanding you limitlessly.”
You’re already in the sun, annihilated but still sentient, apparently. Might as well let the sun work on you. It sounds too hokey to take seriously, but every time I do it I feel better. I tried it once with my father as the object I had to let go of.
I felt better.
This tool should be used whenever you find yourself obsessing about whether you’ll get or keep an object. You can also use it after a loss has occurred, including the death of a loved one. A third use is to make yourself non-attached before an important event whose outcome you’re unsure of.
What does any of this have to do with raising kids?
Try to be serious.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Hollywood Shadows. New Yorker profile of Michaels and Stutz.
Michels’ and Stutz’s drawings. They’re working on a book. But these will have to do for now. The versions I’ve reproduced here are pale imitations of the real thing.
Do you have any spells? Unburden yourself. Just Add Father is listening.
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