Focusing on What Works or On Perpetual Problems

stepmoms and divorced moms thrivingIt's so easy to focus on what's wrong in our lives. My ex-husband David told me about an interesting theory a few days ago: our cave-man brains are so used to honing in on what's incomplete, what needs to be done, that vague sense of "not enough, not enough" as an once-useful, but now outdated survival instinct to help us stay alive.

But now, we live in a perpetual state of stress, where we're constantly focused on our problems.

Way to go, brain, says our rattled nervous systems!

Lately, I've found myself experiencing little peaks of excitement and gratitude (almost like Christmas is tomorrow or cookies are in the oven or I'm about to go book-shopping) as I go about my day and then I'll stop and think, what am I so excited about? Nothing in particular is happening. What's this all about?

And then I kind of scratch my head as I do a mini-scan of my life. Huh -- everything's normal.

I think it's this - my focus is somehow changing. Things are as they've always been, with an equal smattering of "good" and "bad", though the details are different. It's just... my attention happens to be wandering more and more over to the "lucky" side - and there I find myself, looking around, going, wow. Cool!

I thought I'd make a list of all the things that are making me feel so perplexedly-blessed, just for fun.

Maybe my list will inspire yours.

What are the things that continue to go well in your life, with lots of effort, very little, or none? In what ways do you feel like you have it really good? What things just seem to fall out of the sky? What's finally paying off?

What feel like little gifts from the universe?

So in no particular order, the things I'm grateful for:

1. My little brother is safely home from Iraq, as of yesterday. He was there as a contractor for years and I always feared for his safety, but he's back now for good. My parents kept their Christmas decorations up until he got home and I'm just about to go see him after I write this post! Even though he towers over me, he'll always be my little brother and I love him.

2. My daughters. My relationship with my oldest daughter has changed as she moves closer to being an adult and ventures further and further out there into the world - literally and metaphorically. I listen to her dreams of traveling and learning and the passion and joy of new interests, and my heart swells. I feel myself "loosening" with her in that Mom-kind of way, but also growing closer to her. It's wonderful and surprising and thought-provoking all at once and I'm so proud of her.

My youngest daughter is now living with her Dad and Carol. This is a tough one. I want her to feel like she has the space to do this, as her big sister did for a year, but I also miss her desperately. She might be surprised to hear this, because when she was here before, it was business as usual, with a mostly distracted mom, glued to work and the computer and household drudgery. Nevertheless, I did my best to listen when she talked about what she was up to, to look with care at things she had made and was sharing with me, to fret where appropriate in that mother-hen kind of way.

Now that she's "there" most of the time, I feel a general sense of confusion when I try to mentally tune into her. I know she's happy and thriving and seems to be all lit up with the things she's learning and doing and making. I'm holding her in my heart and trying to stay in touch, but it still feels weird. Something to write more about and explore, as I'm sure other women, and men of course, are in the same boat. Still... I come back to feeling mostly happy for her.

3. A new relationship I'm in is going really well.... We have an easy way of relating to each other (we dated in high school!), have so much fun being complete idiots together; sharing interests, actually helping each other change and grow. It feels good to just "be" in it and not overthink things. Not that I'm analytical or anything....

4. Working at home. "Working" is sometimes a euphemism, as I work... to find work. However, the fact that I've managed to do this for almost a year blows my mind. Freelance work is slow at the moment, but things always manage to turn up. Faith is key here. But so are freedom and possibility.

5. David and Carol. I went to a clothing swap last night at my friend Michelle's house and there was Carol! (And her friend, Karen, someone I really like.) Carol and Michelle have become friends, so it shouldn't have surprised me that she was there, but seeing her "out of context" was funny. I feel so lucky to have a connection with her, to feel like we know each other and have worked through some things together and trust each other. I know not a lot of ex-wives and stepmothers can say that.

And David.... He's still a close, cherished friend. We talk mostly on the phone, but he's one of the people who knows me best in the world, and I think, still, vice-versa. There's a shorthand there because of history and time and that's somehow really comforting. We respect and value each other's opinions and I know THAT'S also a rare thing....

6. Friends and family. Wow. When the two begin to blend and blur, you are lucky indeed.

7. Dogs. I love my dogs. I sing to them every day. I talk to them. They both have a million names, mostly made up of nonsensical syllables and sounds. They follow me around, keep me company, make me laugh (and occasionally scream "argh!!") and give me something to do by distributing copious amounts of dog hair throughout our domain, humiliating me if I don't vacuum at least every other day.

Can you say "dog howling???? Every time these two howl at a passing siren, I am seized by the feeling of rapture.

8. Rowing and rock climbing. I have an ongoing joke about only participating in sports that begin with the letter "R", but I hate running, so I guess the theme doesn't really hold water. Both things are meditative, make me feel strong (and sculpt actual biceps!), dissolve stress, force me to go outside, have created scores of new friendships and are activities I crave if not every day, at least every OTHER day. Luckily, I could do them the rest of my life and still have much to learn and miles to go in terms of technique and improvement.

I want to be an old-lady rower and I want to climb all over the world.

What's on your list? Big or small? Even if some areas of your life suck, what's working? What makes you thank your lucky stars?

I saw a neat pattern in a list that was forwarded to me from a newsletter I get. You turn a complaint into something to be grateful for by looking at what your complaint is NOT.

A sampling (author unknown, otherwise I'd happily credit them):

I choose to be grateful...

*For my huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.

*For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means I am alive.

*For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.

*For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means we have freedom of speech.

*For the teenager who is complaining about doing dishes, because it means she is at home, not on the streets.

*For the taxes I pay, because it means I am employed.

*For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been capable of working hard.

*And finally, for too much e-mail because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.


© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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