A LIFETIME AIM, NOT HABIT
I've got vole-itis. And, it itches and burns. I tell myself, “Get over it, already.” But, I can’t. Even though as a professional , I know I’ll be happier when I do. Therapists like to float this by you as "acceptance." Just don’t ask how that’s working for them.
Getting over something, letting go, and…la dee da...is more of a lifetime aim than a daily habit. Of course, there are techniques to coax us along.
ACCEPTANCE. SURE, WHATEVER.
For starters, there's Judith Viorst, now 84, whose name maybe you know for her children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. She's also known for her psychoanalytic research. All the same, Viorst hones in on what “acceptance” looks like in real life. She calls it necessary losses: namely, the illusions, dependencies and expectations that all of us must give up, if we want to be happy.
But, I can’t stomach that just now; I’ve got this vole-itis.
It began in my vegetable garden on a winter morning. Green sprouts of garlic were peeking out of snowdrifts with cheery good wishes, when my boot stepped atop a soft marshmallowy mound. The ground smooshed beneath.
Another step, and another smoosh. That’s when the sight struck me. All of the tender baby apple trees laid face-down, dead in the icy snow. Their trunks and roots, plundered by the gnawing of voles.
Voles? I have voles? I can't.
Voles are kooky critters. Think of a mole, mouse, or gopher. Only, voles really love munching on the roots of food plants. They also love mating exponentially; a single vole can birth a hundred in one year. Forget the rabbit adage.
So, again, I can't have voles. Yet, a grim tune of Taps played in my head. Our brains are not wired to accept losses. Outwardly we drop casual remarks like “Sure, whatever.” But, inwardly, we clench tight. Our minds tally up vole-like menaces: aka, ways to fend off acceptance.
FUNNY BUT NOT HAHA FUNNY
Ultimately, our vole-like ways only amp up our anxiety, which is kind of funny. It’s funny in an ironic way, because we humans dislike anxiety. We go to great lengths to avoid it. Yet, our efforts actually stoke us up more. And, it burns. It itches. Those voles!
Trying to avoid anxiety is like trying to avoid living in your own skin. You can’t. The best we can do is learn how to tolerate anxiety, not make it go away.
EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Back in the garden, the bugle playing Taps gave way to beating drums. Maybe I cursed or stomped, my memory denies any bad behavior of the incident. Opting for angry determination over defeat, I drove straight to the garden center.
Marching past various garden artillery, the pungent whiff of pesticides and other battles-in-a-bottle pacified my fears of helplessness. I’ll take it all, I must have said out loud.
With an emptied wallet, I headed home with my stockpile of control. A word: Skip the pricey-but-I’m-in-control products. They're an illusion.
After more ruminating and clenching tight, an evil laughter triumphed in my head. Seizing my shovel, I charged back out to the battleground. Striking the earth, I proclaimed, “A vole-proof fence!”
Packing a Nobel Prize in Economics, Dr. Daniel Kahneman puts it this way: “Our judgements and decisions are guided directly by feelings of liking and disliking, with little deliberation or reasoning.” Some neuroscientists even argue that our behaviors come from as much as 90% emotional perception, leaving only 10% for facts. Like it or not, our brains' work this way. We see what we want to see.
LIFE AS WE SEE IT
It turns out, voles can squeeze their odious little bodies through quarter-inch openings. I’d read this early on, but I thought...no, scratch that...I disliked and so felt: “That's not possible.” So, pursuing my own mindset, I trenched all the way down to China and literally devised underground wire fencing fortified with a gravel moat.
I’ve still got voles.
IN THE END, WHERE THE VOLES BURROW
Beneath the buds of sweet peppers plenty, the voles plow out caverns and eat the plants. Only now, I wonder about them more than I worry about them. Okay, usually.
When my boots sink into the voles' soft mounds, I still twitch a bit. But, my mind’s eye no longer sees a horde of metal-horned Vikings chest-thumping each other at a beer keg. Instead, through a wider lens, I see mice fending for themselves, frightened at how I wish to lord over them. Gone is my illusion of control and my need for a fairytale garden.
The food-nabbing knaves never were the ones raiding my happiness. The real voles are the expectations and illusions burrowing in my mind.
Now, if I can just let go of the leaf-munching potato beetles mating on this morning's potato leaves. I'm starting to itch and burn again.