Do you remember that old children’s song? “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. I guess she’ll die.” The original supposition, that she will die from swallowing a fly, is pretty silly. But the old lady in the song proceeds to swallow larger and larger animals to catch the ones before — a spider, then a bird, a cat, etc… on up to a horse, at which point, “she died, of course.”
I woke up with this maddening ditty in my head about a week ago, and it threatened to haunt me until I figured out its message. What I’ve come up with is that it’s about our human tendency to react and overcompensate and escalate. I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. Most people I know are pretty good at adding emotional energy and psychological turmoil to just about everything.
Something happens, something that maybe in and of itself doesn’t have to be a big deal. And because most of us are natural shit-stirrers, before we know what’s hit us or what we’re really up against, we can spin out into all sorts of what-if scenarios and imaginings and need-to-do lists and ultimatums.
Sometimes we do this because we’re hooked on the paradigm of “something’s wrong,” so we’re always on the lookout for what we need to do, to fix, to change, to heal. Other times we do it because it’s feels like an exciting way to engage. It feels really alive if we’ve always got some crisis brewing.
We also do it with positive things, stuff we’re enthusiastic about. Projects, ideas, plans — we can inflate anything into something that demands constant energy and attention and time to keep afloat. And the more dramatic we make it, the more important and meaningful it appears. And the bigger we blow it up, the more people we stir up in it, the more connected we feel.
I get it. Because I do it. But it's freaking exhausting! I’m reminded of this wisdom from Henri Nouwen, “A life without a lonely place, that is, without a quiet center, becomes destructive.”
Even if we’re escalating in order to connect… Even if we’re enthusing because we’re truly deeply inspired… Even if we’re really aiming to transform and heal our lives and the world… We can self-destruct if we don’t keep the peace at the center of it all. We serve ourselves and we serve each other when we learn to bring ourselves back to quiet and stillness, to a non-reactive remembrance that all is well right here and right now.
Our quiet center is a place of choice and possibility and power. We don’t have to know why we swallowed that fly, and we don’t have to do anything about it. We can simply choose — not because something’s wrong or something’s needed — but just because we choose.