“Squirrel!” – Adventures in Mental Hygiene

Reading Time:  1.5 minutes

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Earlier this week I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly.  I was metabolizing some difficult family news that left me with a low-level sense of dread I couldn’t shake.   I wasn’t sure how to move past it, so I was exploring that with a friend over coffee.

We were sitting outside near the Oakland Inner Harbor where we typically see seagulls and pigeons.  So when I saw a squirrel running along the walkway, I was stunned into silence.  All I could manage to was to point and blurt “Squirrel.”  This put us both in mind of the dogs in the movie “Up,” who were forever being distracted by squirrels, which caused us to laugh uncontrollably.  During a pause in the hilarity, I choked out “Now, where was I?” and that set us off again.

Eventually I managed to get back to my topic, but it wasn’t the same:  I was too light for that.  My mind was still running back and forth trying to solve the unsolvable, but it was more from habit than conviction.

When I woke up the next morning, I was again assailed with the awfulness of it all and my mood began to sag.  And then I heard myself say “Squirrel,” and once again felt the wonder of seeing that little furry being run by and I started laughing.  And I saw it more clearly than I ever had before:  One moment I was feeling depressed and the next I was laughing uncontrollably.  All that had changed was where I’d put my attention.

I saw that the choice was mine:  I could continue to let my mind persist in this painful and deepening trench, or I could step in and help it do something else.  I couldn’t solve or even fathom the original conundrum – no amount of thought or dread could do that – but I could redirect my beleaguered mind into happier and more productive territory, the way you would redirect a distraught child. Our mind sometimes needs it’s own minder – someone who will do the kind thing and hep it settle down.  I’m so grateful for the lesson of “Squirrel!”

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