I overheard some women talking in a café. They were swapping stories about their neighbors. Apparently one of the women has a neighbor, as she described it, with “a slight case of obsessive-compulsive disorder”… “She keeps her yard immaculate”. She continued to say. “I actually like her obsessiveness though, I mean her yard is perfect… while my other neighbor never tends to her yard at all, I wish she were a little more obsessive.” Her café friend responded, “ Yes I wish I had a little OCD myself, think of all I would accomplish”.
My heart sank a little at the familiar perspective that being obsessive and compulsive is actually something we WANT for ourselves (and our neighbors) because it motivates us to do a really REALLY good job at…. whatever we have on our to do lists.
Do we have to be obsessive and compulsive in order to…..-take care of our yard, -clean our house, -complete our projects at work, -find the right mate, -eat well, -be on time, -return emails, -xyz….. fill in your own blank_____.
Do we really have to watch ourselves like a guard dog who is ready to bite? Do we have to note our every move, waiting for our next screw up so that we can pounce on ourselves?
When I heard these women wishing for obsessive-compulsive disorder for themselves (and their neighbors) I began thinking, “Is it compulsion and guard dogs that we really need to keep us in line? Or is there a deeper motivation that comes from something else? Like maybe our own true desire and basic goodness?”
What I have seen is that for most of us, the growl of the guard dog or the repetition of our obsession is so loud and constant that we can’t really hear the calling of our basic goodness.
I am certainly no stranger to guard dogs, in fact I’ve know these so called “ motivational tools” in just about every shape and size. I’ve stayed up all night obsessing and trying to appease that dog. Searching for scraps of meat to toss his/her way, anything to placate him/her so I can just GO BACK TO SLEEP! I’ve spent entire days (really fun days, with really fun things happening) in negotiations with that guard dog.
Luckily this story has a happy ending. Well mostly happy (mindfulness is NOT a miracle cure for all that ails us). But mindfulness sure did come through for me where this guard dog is concerned. It was through the process of watching my mind, sensing my body and honestly feeling my emotions that I came to see that damn dog wasn’t actually helping. In fact it was stealing away all the joy I had just worked my butt off to get to.
Why do we believe the dog so often? Well, I have asked many people and they have all said something to the tune of, “That “dog” motivates me, without it, I would NEVER DO ANYTHING”. Sound familiar?
Mindfulness has shown me two things about this dog:
First, it’s a scam, I WILL DO _____ (you fill in the blank), without that dog motivating me. Underneath all that growling is actually a very heartfelt desire to _____ (you fill in the blank).
Second, when growls are the motivations, the “big prize” never really comes. Why not? The dog doesn’t know when to stop. It just keeps on playing the same tune “Gggrrrrr” and there you are at THE BIG MOMENT, the thing you’ve been pushing yourself to do and then – CHOMP! – it gets stolen away.
Try it for yourself:
1. Listen for the real story: Go back to a memory in which you were being barked at by an internal guard dog. Use mindfulness, non-judgmental awareness, to inquire into what that guard dog was saying to you at that time of this memory. What did it feel like in your body? What emotions did the memory bring with it?
2. Compare the stories: Can you look more deeply into that memory to see what was actually happening. Sometimes this is hard to discern if you are, like I was, very used to believing the dog. But see if you can… What was the dog’s story and what was the real story. Use this exercise to feel how different these two stories usually are.
3. Find your deeper motivation: What was your heart-felt motivation for this project? Maybe it was excitement, love for that task or subject, a desire to make a contribution, ___ you fill in the blank___. Once you get in touch with this heartfelt motivation, hang out there for a few minutes, breath into it, feel it, come to know it a little. Can you feel how that love, passion or excitement is an even stronger internal guide then growls?
It is not always easy to see this mind habit right away, however with mindfulness your basic goodness can earn a front row seat and the guard dog can be sent out to the dog house with no indoor privileges.
And you know what… after all these years of mindfulness practice the damn dog got the better of me just recently. Caught me totally by surprise while I was at a dinner party… Like I said mindfulness is not a cure-all, sometimes our “old ghosts” (or dogs) still come round, but returning home to meditate and “stare down that dog” definitely did help me that evening.
I’m sure you have your own stories, and maybe on reflection some of them are even a little funny (and on reflection some of them are not). Share them with us if you’d like. Post a guard dog story in the comment section of the blog site.