When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.
About a month ago, I was speaking to my client Sam on the phone about his worry that the rent check he sent to his landlord would be late. Sam lives in a rent stabilized apartment in New York City and believes that if his rent is late, the landlord will take him to court and try to evict him. For those of you who don’t know what a rent stabilized apartment in New York City is, the city has a rent regulation preventing tenants from getting priced out of their own homes. This particular month, Sam gave his rent check to the mail clerk at the post office and he watched as the mail clerk tossed it towards the floor. Sam assumed there was a bin on the floor, but as the hours passed he imagined his rent had been thrown in the garbage. When he called me he was filled with worry and anxiety that the landlord would not receive the check.
This is not the first time Sam has called me full of worry about losing his rent-stabilized apartment. The issue has come up often, for different reasons. I work with Sam often on cultivating the mindset of Maybe, offering him other possibilities than the one that he will lose his apartment and will never be able to afford a different place to live. Maybe has helped Sam through many episodes of stress and worry, but has never seemed to completely take hold in his life. Over time I have realized that some people like Sam need a “platform” mantra to gain some initial perspective on an experience before engaging in the idea of Maybe. It is often a simple statement that alleviates some of their biggest fears so they can calm their mind and start embracing more possibilities in their life. So this time when Sam called, my first response to him was, “Sam, your apartment is not your breath.” Sam became very quiet. When he did not respond, I said again, “The apartment is not your breath. Just take a deep breath and say that aloud.” I heard Sam breathe. Then I heard him murmur, “The apartment is not my breath.” I then said, “Sam, you would still be alive and breathing without this apartment. It is not your life. Maybe it will work out okay or Maybe one day you will enjoy living somewhere else someday.”
Interestingly, when I spoke to Sam the following week, he seemed more well-adjusted about his apartment. Of course, the mailman did not throw the rent check into the garbage and the landlord got the check in the mail. But something was different about Sam’s attitude. He realized that he had been operating under the assumption that the apartment was something he needed for his survival, but when he started to say his “platform” mantra, “The apartment is not my breath” it created a separation between him and the apartment. He was able to relax only when he realized that apartment or no apartment he would still be himself. He could still sell his art, meet a friend for dinner, go to the gym and, most of all, breathe. It was the first time Sam realized that MAYBE he would be okay without the apartment and it made him feel lighter.
Recently, I am amazed to say that Sam has expressed a desire to give up his apartment voluntarily and move to California for better year-round weather and new opportunities. It is as if he has been liberated to pursue his dreams.
Even though Sam’s reaction to his apartment situation may seem extreme to some people (most of whom, I bet, are not New Yorkers!), I share this story because many of us lose perspective in the situations we are dealing with in our lives, no matter what they are. A particular situation becomes all-consuming and we start to believe that we need it to work out a particular way for our lives to be okay. We think we need to get a certain deal at work to be successful, for a stock to go up to be financially secure, or a for a certain someone to like us so we can feel loved. But when we go back to our breath, we remember that our essence and life’s purpose is often bigger than the one situation we face in front of us. We find we still exist without the situation we face going our way. We find that life usually has a way of leading us in new directions if we’re willing to stay open and flexible.
So, when you are stressed and worried about a difficult matter, and when you find yourself attached to something and afraid you’re going to lose it, try the mantra, “This situation is not my breath.” See if you can gain some perspective in the situation. If that one does not work, try to find a “platform” mantra that works for you. Once you create some separation between yourself and whatever it is you’re attached to, say to yourself, “Maybe this is good. Maybe my situation will get better or Maybe I will find a way to accept my experience of loss and still be okay.” Life always keeps moving. And the winds of change? They change direction. So open the door and step out of your rent-stabilized apartment, why don’t you? Whatever that looks like for you.
MAYBE things will work out better than you ever imagined!