The weekend weather lent itself to two full days of working in the yard. Starting each morning, early before the heat arrived, the constant breeze enticed me to stay the day. I am most often aware of how blessed I am when in nature, and that certainly includes the yard – even with the weeds.
As a good deal of time was spent in the trees and in tall grass, I finished the day with a ritual washing of layers of dirt and grass, and of course, the obligatory “tick check.” Climbing into bed I fell fast asleep, only to be woken up at 2:00 a.m. You know that feeling in your ears after you swim and you realize you have water in your ear? That is what woke me up. That noise. I wondered how I got water in my ears…after all, that doesn’t usually happen during a shower. I rolled over, hoping it would drain. It didn’t. Padding down the hall I tripped on a cat or two who, apparently thought 2:00 in the morning was a fine time to request food. I made my way to the bathroom Q-tip jar, grabbed one soft stick and placed it gently into my ear and hoped to sop up whatever was causing the noise – which by this time was really loud. Extracting it by moonlight, I saw a black object run up the Q-Tip, toward my hand.
Writer and life philosopher Anne LaMott says, “My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go into alone.” Apparently the bug had the same idea.
Holding my freak-out to a minimum, I checked my hair again…and again and finally crawled back into bed with a silent prayer. The now “phantom” earbugs kept moving for another hour, giving me time to reflect on the experience before I fell back asleep. Here is what I realized: we all have phantom earbugs. Not the literal kind who want to spend time with you after a day in the garden. Rather the phantom earbugs we have are the voices of people in our lives who have said less than kind things to us. “You will never amount to anything.” “Girls/boys can’t do that.” “You are too (fat, skinny, dumb, smart, etc.).” “You love the wrong person.” Basically the voices say, “You are not enough.” Taunting words on the playground or around the dinner table; long after the voices are no longer saying those things to us directly, they continue to make noise in our heads.
These are the voices we often attempt to combat when we are most stressed. Defensiveness, getting caught off guard and angry, or working long hours on a regular basis, are examples of (often) involuntary responses to the voices we still hear. Often what causes us the most stress are the areas where we wonder if we are enough. We may work very hard to disprove the negative mantras we hear out of our life experience. Working to quiet these voices by our actions is one of the most stress inducing things we can do. Those phantom earbugs keep on judging us, long after the person who originally said the words is gone.
When you find yourself in a pattern of life, it can be helpful to step back from the situation with wonder. “I wonder why I am compelled to consistently keep working until 8pm?” Why is it that I find myself stopping for a shake 3 times a week?” “I wonder what triggers me when I receive a phone call from a particular colleague?” When a pattern arises, investigate what is behind your action. Often times it is a belief that has been around for so long, we barely notice it.
William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” He wasn’t kidding.