Feeling Stressed or Anxious? Grab Your Socks!

What do socks have to do with mindfulness?

As a sucker for corny jokes, this one I heard back in high school Spanish class stuck with me:

A man who only speaks Spanish goes into a department store to buy some clothes. He goes to the salesman to get some help, but the salesman doesn’t speak any Spanish. Being a good salesman, he tries his best to make it work.

“¿Donde están los calcetines?” the man asks, and the salesman says, “Um…are you looking for a shirt?” and he indicates his shirt, and the man shakes his head, so the salesman says, “Do you mean pants?” The man shakes his head again, no. The salesman continues this line of questioning until finally he lifts the leg of his pants and points to his sock. “Socks?” he asks.

“¡Ah! ¡Sí! ¡Sí! ¡Eso si que es!” the man says.

“S-O-C-K-S?” The salesman says. “Well why didn’t you say so!”

Roughly translated, “Eso si que es” means, “That is what it is” and, strictly speaking, isn’t something a native would likely say, but, hey, jokes are allowed a little wiggle room.

But what does this have to do with mindfulness?

Too often most people get caught up in the fast pace of their own emotions and don’t know what to do with all the worry, stress, and anxiety that seems to accompany their thinking about work, relationships, health, family life, and even the weather that completely derails our best laid plans. I know that I personally can work myself into a fit if I begin thinking about all the things in my life that aren’t exactly how I wish them to be, the things I wish I could change but cannot, and if I view what often seems an overwhelming amount of tasks I have placed on myself with a weary eye. I’ve struggled with anxieties about perfection and achievement for most of my life, and any time I begin to ruminate about what I *think* I need to accomplish and the work that will be required, I feel that slow spread of panic seeping throughout my body, shutting down the mental faculties I need to actually begin the list, let alone attempt to finish it.

When I first began practicing mindfulness, I eagerly adopted the idea of looking at that mental list so many of us have about what is “wrong” with our lives, with a bit of detachment to the outcomes for each. I knew I couldn’t give up my lists altogether, but I could look at those lists with a more reasonable eye, one that could identify the things that were necessary for me to work on and those that I could not change or affect—things that just were, well, what they were, a fact of life. I could feel frustrated and insecure about whether or not a person liked me, but as long as I was being true to myself and kind to them, this was largely out of my control. I could moan and stress about hurricanes and snow storms that closed school and work when I badly needed to work, run errands or even a date night out, but the weather wasn’t budging for my convenience. I could worry and stress about family and friends whom I felt weren’t taking the best care of themselves, but no matter how many times I offered advice or attempted to help manage their health, finances, or love lives, this too, proved to be elusive to my abilities.

So instead I began marking those items, mentally as well as in physical lists when they showed up with a tiny pair of socks. I had just told that amazingly corny joke to my kids and explained the meaning, so it was fresh in my mind, and for me, it was an easy way to remember that for some things I have to remember, “That is what it is”, and wasn’t for me to change.

Later, I sat in on a group with my favorite Swami who read aloud the Serenity Prayer, commented on its simplicity and beauty, and noted what he felt was an important distinction (I’m paraphrasing):

No one needs to grant you the serenity, courage, or wisdom that you need to accept what is, you already have that within you.

In fact, the anxiety you feel about those things is coming from your own personal thinking about them. I don’t think it takes away from this beautiful prayer, but instead, makes it even more powerful. You have it within all along. Change what you can, complete the tasks that are necessary, and contribute where your efforts will be useful, but put “SOCKS” on the things that are beyond your efforts…and watch at least some of your anxiety and stress melt away effortlessly.