Fortunately, I thought to ask him this question: “have there been any exceptions to these thoughts?”
He brightened and said, “oh yes! I took my dog for her morning walk to a park we love. This is my favorite time of year. The geese were flying in formation overhead, and the leaves on the trees were dancing, looking at each other and saying ‘is it time to let go?’ It was a beautiful walk.”
Phew, I thought, he’s going to be OK. He was able to shift back into a relaxed and happy state, from which we could then look more clearly at what was upsetting him.
He’s depressed—except when he’s not. I’m worried—except when I’m not. I’m shy—except when I’m not. I’m mad at her—except when I’m not. I’m happy—except when I’m not.
It’s so helpful to notice when we’re staking a claim on any particular quality to notice the exceptions, even with positive emotions or thoughts, so that we can truly enjoy them without expecting them to last forever. And with the painful ones, to give a little space to them so we can work with them skillfully.
Thanks to therapists Stephen Gilligan for teaching me this and Stephen Nicholas for reminding me of it. And thank you to the client who gave me permission to tell his story.