When the Mind Won’t Stop {5 Ideas That Might Help}

For When the Mind Won't Stop

There you are, on the couch with your kids, in the stands at the game, at the coffee shop with a friend. You’re sitting. You’re supporting. You’re socializing. But you haven’t stopped.

You’ve pushed pause. Your body is still, at least enough to watch and cheer and talk, but your mind is running. Writing a grocery list. Rehashing a conversation. Remembering the mountain of laundry waiting at home for a reboot.

What’s to be done with a mind that resists the pause button, a mind that won’t stop?

Set it.

Set its direction. Set is tone. Set its limits.

Set it before it sets you. Before it sets you on a path that steals moments meant for restoration. On a path of duty rather than joy. On a path that distances you from others and even from yourself.

Setting the mind, it’s not a once and done kind of operation—not once a week, once a day, or once an hour. It’s a persistent, gentle shepherding, a returning of the mind from where it’s wandered back to where it belongs, a pointing it toward the path you want it to take rather than the one it’s used to, a cultivating of the discipline of mentally being where you are rather than back into the rigors of work or the woes of life.

And just exactly how does one set the mind? How do we shepherd it back, point it toward the path we choose, cultivate discipline?

Practice. That it takes time is unavoidable. There’s no easy plan. Here are some things that help me when I discover my mind won’t stop.

  1. Pause. Even if it’s imperfect. Open up some space for connection, for reflection, for rest.
  2. Predetermine: Often when the mind wanders it isn’t into the healthiest or holiest or even the helpful-est of places. It goes off borrowing trouble from tomorrow or dragging some of yesterday’s into today. Decide where you don’t want your mind to go. And where you do.
  3. Pray. Because what better way to renew your mind than to invite God in? Because human strength and stamina is limited and His is not. Because we can.
  4. Choose the present. Even if the present is chaotic, stressful, or even a little dull, the present is where our body resides. It’s where other folks with pulses live. It’s where our people are. Best if the mind and body reside there together, near their people.
  5. Persevere: The mind, like the body, gets stronger through use and exercise. A twenty-four hour day stretches out like a marathon course. Just as runners train the body, we who struggle to press pause must train the mind. Some marathon runners train to finish, to complete the course. And some train to win, to finish fast. None of us will finish first in a twenty-four hour day. It begins and it ends at the same time for everybody. Perhaps true perseverance is to train to finish well, not to finish first.

And you? What helps you set your mind in the direction you want it to go?

Sharing this week at Lyli’s and Barbie’s.

 

Waiting For What We Can’t See

Waiting for What You Can't See Along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and  Cooke City, the meadows are open and greening, quite in agreement with the calendar: spring has arrived. Leave the dry, temperate north end of Yellowstone and try to head into the interior, though,  and you’ll see a place still in waiting.

The most obvious sign: You can’t actually get there. Many of the roads are covered in snow. And closed.

It’s too bad, because there’s something there I want to see and never will.

In winter, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River develops a cone of ice, constructed by cold air and the mist churned up the river’s three-hundred-foot drop. In spring, warmer air and the same mist break down the structural integrity of the cone, eating away at it until it can no longer support itself. Eventually, after a series of thunderous pops and cracks, it collapses.

I’ve wanted to see this ever since I was eighteen, since that winter’s day when I stood next to the Lower Falls, marveling at the shield of ice and listening to a guide explain what would happen later that spring. But when the cone collapses, there’s no way into the park. It’s completely inaccessible.

Waiting For What You Can't See The roads that close every November to accommodate the transition from asphalt to  snow  close again every March for the reverse. Unlike fall’s reliance on the natural buildup of regular, seasonal precipitation, the transformation from snow road back to asphalt is a systematic dismantling, one which requires heavy equipment and weeks of labor. It’s a slow process, one which renders most of the park effectively closed.

Yellowstone—its wildlife and its woods tucked away from the eyes of all but a few employees—is inaccessible but busy,  pressing on toward that  burst of growth that spring’s increasing sunlight and warmth will unleash. The park does fine without observation. It doesn’t need us to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Buds swell on their branches. Bears wake and wander hungry from their dens, ready to hunt and gather. And bison, the largest of Yellowstone’s animals, trudge through the receding snow and their final bulky weeks of gestation.

But, like the collapse of the cone, much of this happens out of our reach. It’s entirely inaccessible. No matter how much we might want to see it.

Waiting For What You Can't See

It’s spring. The calendar says so and there’s evidence all around.  Here at home green sweeps though the timber and makes its way across the pasture to the front door. Birds sing with the dawn. Morning and evening light cast their influence over our activities and our moods.

While the temperate regions in my life make their way into the light of spring with ease, there are interior pockets that are slow to join them. There’s no road to get there, so I can’t see what’s going on. I can’t hurry it along. No matter how much I want to.

Because I’m learning to pay better attention to the seasons, I’m starting to understand some things about those inaccessible, wintry pockets.

Just as the arrival of the vernal equinox does not mean that winter has fully released its hold on the earth, there is no one day to look to for the thawing of the wintry places in my life. What it does mean is that winter’s power is weakening. Spring is on the way.

Spring is always on the way.

Those wintry places will feel the light in their time. They don’t need me to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Spring’s got this. It’s blowing its warm breath across the landscape of life, creating the right conditions for the ice to crack and the cone to collapse. It’s slow sometimes and hard to wait, but the rhythm and inevitability of the seasons work in our favor, even when we can’t see it. Maybe especially if we can’t see it.

And you?  Are you prone to wonder and worry over what you can’t see? What could you do instead?

 

 

(You can see a photo of  the ice cone toward the end of its life here.)

Sharing at Barbie’s and Lyli’s places this week.

Gifts and Graces: Spring Edition

Spring on the Square

Yesterday I hurried into Walmart for a few things and emerged–much more slowly–pushing a cart. Right outside the door I caught the fragrance of something I’d seen but not stopped to appreciate on the way in: flowers for sale. It was the scent of spring.

I try, with varying degrees of success, not to focus so much on the difficulties of a season  that I miss out on the good. This winter, with its perpetual grey skies that delivered more rain than snow, proved hard not to wish away.

Already the best gift and amazing grace of spring is that it arrived, just in time to remind me that seasons were God’s idea, and that as long as there are lights in the heavens to govern them, seasons—no matter how long or weird or uncomfortable—will end.

So I’m thankful for spring, for days that can be counted on to get a little longer as they pass, for green that marches across the grass and through the treetops toward my doorstep, for teasing, balmy air. What I’m grateful for this Spring Which Followed the Greyest of Winters is that no matter the nature of that cold season, spring always comes again.

Gifts of Spring: A Short List of Things to Count On.
  1. Evening light. Glory.
  2. Rain. Even though it brings clouds.
  3. Growth: Even when it brings growing pains.
  4. Girls that want to go outside. During school. A lot.
  5. Change. Even though I never like it. At first, anyway.
  6. Buds on the branches. Calves frolicking in the pasture. Mama cats looking for place to shelter tiny kittens.

And you? What gifts, graces, and even glitches is this season bringing your way?

Sharing at Lyli and Barbie’s .

Every Day We Show Up

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Dress Rehearsals

Every Monday during the winter, I drive into town. There, twenty young actors and a few directors gather to work.

We block scenes so the actors know where they’re supposed to be, when. We practice dialogue so they know their lines and how to deliver them. We fine tune character development so they know how to inhabit their role. 

In the beginning progress is slow. Details that seemed settled at one practice get lost before we make it to the next. We forget lines and props and which side of the stage to enter from.

But week by week, little by little, we improve. The actors go where they want to end up. They say the right line at the right time. And they become the character they’re meant to be.

It’s a process.

We start with blocking rehearsals. We don’t do the scenes in the order they appear in the script. We work the scenes in an order that helps us make the best use of our time. To an observer it might look as though we’d dropped the script and are performing a mixed up story.

But observers don’t matter at this point.

We just need to figure out what’s happening on the stage: How to get from here to there. How to get the props on. How to get the set changed.

After blocking, we move to polishing. We work on getting on and off stage at just the right time and in just the right way. We work on saying our lines not like ourselves but as our character. We quit relying on scripts because we can’t use them in performance and it’s impossible to act well with a book in your hand.

A few weeks before the show, we begin technical rehearsals– bringing in sound and lights and special effects and the audio-visual crew so that it all flows together. And we continue to polish. We perfect line delivery and placement and postures. We prepare for the inevitable moment when someone will forget a line, when some prop will disappear, or break, or just get forgotten.

And then it’s dress rehearsal, probably the cast’s favorite one of all, with costumes, a dark house, and directors glued to their seats, unable to stop things and ask them to “run that one more time.” It’s the moment they’ve been working toward. They take the stage. They perform the show. Just as they’ve practiced.

When it’s over they’re tired and hungry and ready to go home, but first they sit together on the stage and we talk. They talk about how they think it went, what went well and what they hope doesn’t happen again. Then the directors and even the technical crew do they same, because it’s important to know what went right and what still needs some work.

In just over twelve hours we’ll all be back, putting on makeup and costumes, and–because they’re all teenagers–eating, rested and ready for the show.

The lights will go down. They’ll take the stage. And the show will begin.

The cliché is right. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But it’s not a performance, either. Life is living, one day at a time.

We show up for practice. We block so we know where to go, when. We polish so we know how to communicate, what we need to say and how and when we need to say it, how to make ourselves heard and how to be silent so others can be heard. We practice the technical stuff and grow more and more into who we already are.

Over and over again.

Every day we show up with what we have,  ready to do our part and do our best. Every day we block the new, polish the old, and hold an imperfect dress rehearsal for the day to come. And every day we learn from that day how to better move into the next one, how better to run the race set before us, how better to attend to and apply the Word that lights our path.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It isn’t a performance. It’s a story, blocked, polished, and lived out one day at a time, with new mercies raining down.

And you?  What are you showing up to today? What’s it teaching?

Linking this post at Jennifer, Lyli, Brenda, Barbie, Jen and  Dawn‘s.

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Overwhelm: A Bridge Toward Saner Living

Trout Lake BridgeJ and I took our first trip to Yellowstone together twenty-two springs ago. As we zipped down the interstate ahead of schedule in the middle of the afternoon, I realized we could make it to the park that night. We could cancel our along-the-way reservation, drive to the Old Faithful Inn, and wake up already there rather than still long hours away.

I calculated the miles and the time. I figured we’d pull into the Inn’s parking lot by ten.

What I didn’t do was reckon on a sleet-spitting storm and the sludge that passing semis threw over the windshield of our little red Plymouth Sundance. Or factor in the one hundred thirty-nine deer that crossed the highway on their way down to the Shoshone River. Or consider Yellowstone’s speed limits, which are 45 miles per hour at best.

And I didn’t know about the road.

It was ten p.m. when we crossed the park border. Still, we passed the gate and entered Yellowstone with a sense of euphoria. We’d made it. We were in the park. We still had sixty-five miles to go, but we’d be out of the vehicle and headed toward bed by midnight.

Except, just inside the gate, there was this sign. ROAD CONSTRUCTION, it read, along with something about how many miles this road construction was going to last. Something about a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Something that meant it was going to take a very long time to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.

I drove past the sign onto a road that had been reduced to its dirt base. Obeying the speed limit was not simply a matter of compliance with the law. It was a matter of survival. Even at twenty-five, the car lurched and bounced, jarring our bones and rattling our brains. Twenty-five became more of a dream than a reality.

Between the nonexistent road, a mountain pass still blocked by winter’s snow, and the potholed highway that led to our destination, four more hours went by before we finally arrived, worn and weary at the Inn. In my optimism and desire to get to the park, I had made a gross miscalculation.

I do that in life sometimes.

I tally up the tasks and the time and figure I’ll be able to pull it off before the deadline. But I forget to factor in life’s squalls that throw sludge and limit what I can see and do. I don’t factor stopping for one hundred thirty-nine unexpected obstacles. I forget how fast I can—or can’t—go.

And I don’t always know about the road.

Sometimes it’s smooth. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy. And sometimes it’s a bone-jarring, brain-rattling surface that brings me to my own life worn out and shaken up.

It isn’t the math, not the reckoning or the factoring or the considering. It’s a tendency toward optimistic and often delusional thinking, a belief that the little things don’t really add and the road will always be clear.  It was this delusional thinking that defined last fall.

I felt overwhelmed. And stuck. Every day.

And then, one day after a morning (morning!) nap, I realized I wasn’t as stuck as I felt. I had options. Not a lot of them, but enough to make life more manageable for the now and better for the next time this always-packed season came around. I postponed a self-imposed deadline and enlisted help for current projects and one that would come back around in a year.

Overwhelm, I saw, was not just an unwelcome companion on that leg of my life’s journey.  It was a bridge, a rickety one, between a land of delusion and one of saner living. Seeing it for what it was allowed me to be grateful, not just for the bridge but for the road that brought me there. Crossing it taught me a few things. Here they are, in print, so I can remember them and so I can share them with you, just in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed.

Six Ways to Use Overwhelm as a Bridge to Saner Living

  • Resist the urge to panic. While panic comes easy and calm takes effort, it never helps.
  • Realize you are not as stuck as you feel. Feelings serve as good indicators, but they aren’t good at telling the whole truth.
  • Rest. Whatever that looks like for you. Somehow, things look better after a night’s rest. Or a morning nap. Or a bath. A walk. A conversation.
  • Reconnoiter. While this is a military term, it’s helpful in navigating life. It means to go to an area to gather information about an enemy. Basic reconnaissance. And, while enemy may be extreme in describing overwhelm, the concept of an intentional information-gathering trip into your own life applies.
  • Remediate. Based on what you learn, make changes where you can—both for the now and the later. Even a small change is movement.
  • Request help. About the truth that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, CS Lewis said that sometimes the strength is simply to ask. Sometimes it’s to carry on. Sometimes it’s to do less. And sometimes it’s the strength to face the truth that we need help.

And you?  Have you ever found yourself in need of a saner way of living? What did you do? I’d love to hear.

 

 

 

Sharing stories at Jennifer Dukes Lee and 3D Lessons for Life