Taming the Deer

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There is something in the way my daughter cuts across the soccer field after another game that makes me afraid.  Her body sags with defeat even though her team won the game.

“Good job.” I hug her.

“Thanks,” she mutters in my shoulder. “But, Mom.” She pulls back. “I’m the only forward who hasn’t made a goal.”

I try to stop it from happening. To blanket my mind with objectivity and logic. But these words trigger a familiar commotion and panic in my brain. My thoughts bound up a hypothetical mountain like a deer chasing one shadow after another, and I have no choice but to cling to its back like a rodeo clown.

In this moment, I believe nothing more tragic could be happening to my daughter. The horror of it. How can she live this down? She’s disappointing her coach, her team, herself. I’m lost in fresh hysteria.

But I play it cool with my daughter.

“Well, I’m sure you’re not the only one. What about the midfielders?”

“I’m talking about the forwards.” She winced. “It’s not the midfielders’ job to make a goal, Mom.”

She says Mom like I’m a dumbbell. Usually, she’s a very nice girl.

Here’s the truth. My brain can be dangerous to my well-being. It can conjure up a host of dangers and worries while whittling down my self-esteem to the size of a popcorn kernel. If allowed free range, it will tailgate my peace and run it right off the road and into a ditch. It’s real grunt work, keeping my brain in check, trying to pinpoint and uproot the thoughts causing me grief. It’s easier to let the rhinorrhea of obsessive thoughts flow unhindered into my neurotic hanky. At times, I’d like to remove my brain, unscrewing and removing it like the hard drive of a computer. Other times, I treasure my brain, obsessive snot and all. It’s this love/hate relationship that I find so uncanny. Our brains cause us no end of heartache.  And joy. And boredom. And curiosity. And dread.

At the next few games, I haggle with myself under the shade of the sport’s umbrella.

Making a goal is not the most important part of soccer.

Yes it is. Make a goal, Autumn.

It matters more that my daughter is playing well, improving, and having fun.

But she needs to make a goal.

This experience is perfect for her.

Make a goal now!

Before bed, I pray for Autumn to make a goal, but it feels wrong, like praying for a new car or a pet panda. Shouldn’t I be praying for her to have the experience she needs? Isn’t that real faith? Trusting in God’s plan over our limited perspective?

But I balk and pray for the goal.

Meanwhile, my daughter never mentions the issue again. She lives day to day as only a teenager can. The fuss is my own Frankenstein. It’s not about my daughter and her goalless status. This is about the white-knuckled tactics of my brain. Her mantra isn’t Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal! Nope. That’s all mine. And this is not my first obsessive rodeo. I’ve tormented myself about my marriage, my kids, the state of the world, my friendships, the terrorists that one time I swore were lurking in the rocks by our campsite in the isolated Utah desert. I suspect my brain distracts itself with this sort of hackwork to avoid the real work, the full-throated stuff of life.  

The British philosopher Alan W. Watts wrote:

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be another experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”

I’ve heard the mantra a thousand times: Live in the precious present moment. I’m finally listening. Anything to stop the endless pawing at my brain. When it happens, that split second when the deer is about to bolt, I try to galvanize my five senses.

I fling off my sandals at the soccer fields and hunker in the grass. Funny how sharp the blades feel against my newly shaved legs. I flick off a few ants from my ankles. I listen to the jabbering of the spectators on the hill behind me and taste the melting tonic of dark chocolate on my tongue. Driving home, I rub my palms along the hard leather of the steering wheel. I’ve never noticed the pencil-thin canal sandwiched between two houses even though I’ve driven this road for years. I roll the window down and smell the mixture of hydrogen sulfide and decaying brine shrimp drifting across the wetlands. The seat warmer pulls the chill out of my bones.  

 At night while praying, I rub my knees against the carpet and feel the pliable mattress beneath my elbows. I smell my tangy face cream and listen to the pitter-patter of tiny feet sluffing bed. My husband sighs at the bathroom sink; the house shuts down.  

In the here and now, the iridescence of my life lengthens and deepens. Guilt evaporates in the absence of a past. Worry scatters like October leaves, collecting on the fences of the future. My mind pools in peace. It’s always going to be about this moment, the now of my life. Gratitude pulses through my current heartbeat, not the heartbeat from a month ago. My prayers reside in the moment I utter them. Living in the moment is the only way I have found to get off the bounding deer. It’s true I find this present-moment-nirvana as difficult to achieve as deciding on a throw pillow at Ikea. 

But when it happens, it’s glorious.