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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Lesson of Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland Pa...Image via Wikipedia
When my youngest daughter had her first day at Disneyland on her 11th birthday, she was afraid of pretty much every ride. We figured that the trip might end up with one of us staying with her while the rest enjoyed all of the Disneyland traditions like Splash Mountain and the Haunted House. She'd always been a little nervous about rides.

But then she discovered Big Thunder Mountain Railroad...now that's not necessarily a ride for wimps either, but for some reason, she decided to try it, and after that, we could hardly get her off! I rode with her on one occasion, grabbing tightly to the bars of the car as we whipped furiously around the mountain, when she finally suggested to me "Mom, just let go." I looked over at her and there she was, my normally nervous little girl, with her arms stretched high up over her head riding that thing as if she was born to it. She told me that it was a smoother ride if I just let go of the bars. And so I did. And she was right.

I often think of that moment when I'm struggling with my own life. We are, every day of our lives, riding a roller coaster between pain and pleasure. Most of the time it is a relatively quiet ride, but one day you might say to yourself "life doesn't get better than this" and the next you may find out that a diagnostic test has uncovered something that could be cancerous in your body.

"That's life," is what we say to each other when something becomes so obviously out of our control. And when you think about it, much of life is out of our control. The only thing we really have any control over is our reaction to what goes on around us. So as I learned that day at Disneyland, I have to remember to let go rather than to grasp too tightly and try to control what happens simply because I can't. Grasping on too tightly to anything will ultimately only bring pain and unhappiness.

The truth is that nothing stays the same, not even those most majestic Rocky Mountains. Every object, every person, every moment, has its time to shine and then is no more. That seems a very sad thought, but when we learn to let go rather than desperately clinging to something, it's a much easier ride. What is even more interesting to me about human nature is the tendency to cling to the bad stuff too, and how we will punish ourselves again and again for something that may have happened a long time ago. I catch myself doing that from time to time. It's as if I am right back there in that moment again, feeling everything I felt then as if it were right here in the present. Whether it's anger, humiliation, pain, fear...it feels as real as it did when I first experienced it. Now why would I do that to myself?

The mind is a funny thing...when it is undisciplined, it just flies from thought to thought until it finds a train that it is attracted to. Once it is on that train, it is held captive by the emotions and can't get off. Well, it can, but only if we direct it to. During the day when we are busy going about our business, the mind is too occupied with the tasks at hand to ride the train. But at night, as I have recently been experiencing more than usual, the mind can become a virtual wasteland of fears, anxieties and worries. Because you are not occupied and the room is dark and quiet so there is nothing to distract you, your mind goes on the rampage. Yes, I know, you've been there :-)

When you think of it, however, this is just another form of clinging although it is perhaps not as conscious. If you are able to step back from your thoughts for only a second, you can stop the train in its tracks. And when you do, you can redirect your mind to something else.

I give speeches. Yes, I know that sounds completely silly, but that's what I do. Even though anyone who knows me knows that I have performance anxiety in my "real life", when I'm lying in bed in the wee hours and need to distract myself from those hellish thoughts, I will imagine myself in front of people giving a speech on something that I know something about. And sooner or later I will bore myself to sleep.

Now, I don't always succeed. If I get too bored too quickly and I'm still awake, then that monkey mind of mine will be unleashed again. So I have to work at it. Sometimes, instead of giving a speech, I will win the lottery. I will spend a delightful time imagining all of the people I'm going to share my winnings with, and put myself in the seat of that Mustang convertible riding free and easy. Oddly enough, even in my night time fantasies in that convertible, I never speed. That could end up a nightmare...

IJ ...oh, yes, and by the way this summer my youngest daughter who is mentioned above, turns 21, and I turn 52. Our birthdays are 4 days apart...so the two of us are renting a Mustang and driving to the Okanagan :-)
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