Yesterday, in honor of Halloween, I wore a halo left over from a past Halloween to the Chapel Hill Leads Group. A few years ago when the Imago Conference was held over Halloween, I wore a set of wings on the back of my sparkly evening gown to the conference banquet. Someone there handed me this halo saying “You need this.” I couldn’t find her at the end of the evening so figured it was a gift. It lived in my consulting room on the shark puppet I kept on my bookcase– which I thought expressed a certain irony– until yesterday morning when I plucked it off and set it on my head to wear to my favorite business networking group. The wings were big and bulky and did not survive the move to my new home office. But I figured the halo was easy to keep and would come in handy some day, like the day before Halloween. Made of fluffy white material, it looked more like a ring of kitten’s fur, but it worked.
When I got to Leads, my friends greeted me with smiles and laughter. “You’re an angel!” someone said. “I always wanted to hug an angel!” said another, reaching arms around me. I was surprised to be the only one with any kind of costume in this group filled with funny and creative small business owners.
When time came for my turn to have 30 seconds to advertise my services, I stood and addressed the group: “Are you stressed? Are you anxious? Is your mind filled with disaster scenarios? Well, you can change your mind! I can help you fill your mind with positive messages. Learn more at alicecarlton.com.”
As often happens, later I wished I’d said: “Learn to be your own guardian angel.”
That’s what I learned in my own therapy and that’s what I strive to teach my clients. For good self-care is surely being your own guardian angel. Perhaps we already have guardian angels. I like to think so. Perhaps learning to be your own guardian angel is really opening to the guardian angels that are already there. Who knows? But giving intentional attention to what’s in your mind—to what messages you give yourself—is important in good self-care and in creating the life you want.
A student I saw once came in on the verge of a panic attack over a bad test grade. “I wish I’d never taken this course! But it’s too late to drop it! I’m not a good test taker!” she lamented. After finding out she was doing well in her other classes, that she had talked to the professor who was sympathetic and offered to help her if she came in during office hours, I suggested this might just be a blip in the road. “I’m good at finding blips in the road!” she declared.
“Let’s think about that statement. Is that really true? Is there a more useful message you could give yourself?” I asked.
She thought a minute and then said: “I’m a strong person. I won’t give up.”
“Good. I’d add: ‘Everyone has to deal with blips in the road, not just you.’”
She smiled, “Yes, it’s not just me.” She had a lighter spring in her step as she left that day.
The thoughts we think matter. We can choose the thoughts we think. We forget this but it’s true.
Years ago when I had first become a single parent and felt weighed down with enormous responsibilities, I realized I could not allow myself to sink under them. I could not allow myself to fall apart. I had a child to raise. I needed to be a good role model for him. Watching my mind, I saw how fertile it was in creating disaster scenarios, how easy it would be to despair and fall into a black hole. Mark Twin once said, “I am a very old man and have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which never happened.” I realized if I was going to make it, I would have to pay attention to what I put into my mind. I began to read uplifting spiritual books. I made time to ventilate into my journal. I nurtured relationships with supportive friends. I took up a daily meditation practice. I began the disciplined work of training my mind.
The thoughts we think matter. We can choose what thoughts we put into our minds. Just because you think it, does not make it so. Don’t believe everything you think. And as a therapist once told me, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
October 31, 2013