I recently returned from a trip to Southern India; it was interesting, but not inspiring. What do I mean by that? It wasn’t atypical, exciting or adventuresome. But, there was one thing I brought back that will stay with me for a very long time. Let me arrest your fears. It wasn’t an exotic disease. It was a message inscribed, in English and Hindi, on a 4-foot-high whitewashed fence surrounding an old dirty trash-littered playground that was in desperate need of upgrading.
The message was simplistic, and the words were obvious, but the lesson imparted has stuck in my brain. It read, “I will not allow anyone to walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” For me it was profound. It said what I already know, but too often forget and almost always find difficult to put in practice.
Think about it. How many times in your life have you let problems related to others, your situation in the world and your relationships with friends, family, or business associates cloud your thoughts and obscure your peace of mind? As a result, you became obsessed with the problem. It can overwhelm you emotionally, severely interfere with your productive thinking and waken you in the middle of the night to discover your jaws are clenched and your teeth hurt, all because of the anxiety you’re experiencing.
It isn’t as though it’s the end of the world or you’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Instead, it’s similar to having a doctor suggest you may have coronary heart disease and need to be tested. From that moment on, until you get the test results, nothing of a productive nature takes place. Every ache and pain you normally would dismiss is exaggerated. You obsess over what the future holds, but your obsessions don’t change a thing, except your fear causes you to lose sleep, become irritable and to feel a victim – the thought being, “I’m helpless, and it’s the end of life as I know it.”
At the same time, if I were to appeal to your intellectual being, you readily would recognize and admit no matter what’s happening, there is little you can do about it. You just have to wait until it plays out or you get the test results and then determine how you’re going to react to whatever the consequences are.
For many of you, there is a reluctance to admit things happen in the world that you just can’t control. Even more, that you are, in fact, unable to change circumstances outside yourself or the behavior of other human beings, because of that, your only alternative is to learn how to take control of yourself.
For example, over the years, I have seen countless people go through divorce. I cannot begin to tell you how stressed, anxious, hostile, depressed and/or concerned many of them become, enraged with thoughts of vengeance and retaliation. But, neither emotional reaction alters their situation. Their friends may say, “You have a right to be angry because of your wife’s or husband’s behavior.” But, over the long term, that doesn’t change anything, either. In the end, their sadness, anger, resentment and hatred only serve to destroy their container. They’re self-defeating emotions.
I could go further and state they’re destructive to you. They don’t affect your situation positively and have little effect on the person you perceive to be responsible for the situation you’re in. What you need to be is a person who can say, “I’m getting a divorce. I’m angry, and it’s difficult to forgive or forget that the person I lived with all these years betrayed me. But, what am I going to do? Can I change them, alter their behavior or make them respond the way I want them to? Can I clean their dirty feet?”
The answer is, it’s not your job and you can’t, even if you want to. Only they can do it. What you have to do is to be able to say, “No matter what he or she says or does, I have to concentrate on what I want the future to hold for me.” That’s the road you need to follow. It’s one that will prove positive and constructive actions, tomorrow, the day after and the rest of your life.
In time, you might come to realize their behavior helped you to face the fact your marriage wasn’t what you tried to make it be, thought it should be or wanted it to be, and the only thing that kept you there was your fear. Even more, that what you have to deal with in the future is your feelings of insufficiency and fear that you won’t be able to make it on your own.
Once you see you as your primary problem, you’ll come to see that you can handle the issues you have to face. Note that, it doesn’t matter if the “dirty feet” is an ex-spouse, your troubled child, a spiteful ex-boss, a health issue or an emotional problem.
Any one of those can overwhelm, control and cause you to become stressed and to obsess. Conversely, they can force you to face your fears and to behave in spite of, as opposed to because of them. But, that won’t happen unless you, first, accept the notion you’re in control of who or what walks through your mind.
That’s why this message has so much meaning for me. It says, “I won’t let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” It endows you with the notion that you are in control of yourself, and you can determine what stays in your brain. How? By saying, “I can’t change the past, but I certainly can take control of me and live for the future.”
What I’m suggesting to each of you is no matter what your problems may be, who you may feel is responsible, what they or you did, no matter how wrong, unfair or unjustified it was, you are in control of what you’re going to let stay in your head. Accepting that will enable you to sleep at night, feel good about yourself and know that whatever happens, the “dirt,” figuratively speaking, on other people’s feet won’t destabilize you in the future.