No. 66 | Seven mindful distinctions

I’ve just finished reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee (gosh it’s lovely). The titular essay explores his method of finding just the right word, and the energy and economy that word can bring to its sentence. I have since been inspired to order a very, very large dictionary.

I find that having just the right word aids not only my writing, but my mental health. The right word can help me communicate thoughtfully, understand my own feelings, or even spend my money more wisely. Here are seven mindful distinctions I try to make in my everyday life.

1) Seen / Noticed

Instead of “I’ve never seen…” I try to say “I’ve never noticed…” There’s much we see without ever noticing. Until we do.

2) Jealous / Envious

I’m no lexicographer but my general understanding is:

  • Jealousy: I’m upset that someone else is playing with my toys.
  • Envy: I’m upset that someone else has toys that I don’t have.

I had to explore this distinction in detail in the preamble to my divorce. My partner wanted to explore their sexuality, and relationship structures in general, which led to us opening the marriage, which led to their being intimate with someone they’d long been friends with. It was difficult for me in many ways, but not, primarily, because of jealousy. If anything it was exciting for me to imagine them sharing their body with someone else. But while I was not (especially) jealous, I was deeply envious. They’d found someone they truly clicked with, someone with whom they could spend a near-endless amount of hours with and not tire of, someone who drove them to work harder and to grow … of all that, I was envious.

It was a difficult experience that taught me a lot. I learned that polyamory does not especially interest me, but the journey did enable me to experience some rewarding ethically-non-monogamous relationships since, and to weather a few rough patches in monogamous relationships.

Jealousy is toxic, and needs always expunged. Envy is dangerous, but can be a learning opportunity, and encourage one toward doing the work to add something to a relationship they wish were there.

3) Expensive / costly

A MacBook Pro costs a lot of money, but it’s also very high quality: expensive. Apple’s dongles cost a lot of money for what they are (especially compared to alternatives) and aren’t especially high quality: costly.

This is one of Merlin’s tropes on Back to Work and it has since lodged in my brain. I grew up without much dough, and spent most of my 20s … improvising, let’s call it, financially-speaking … so I’ve had to sort of re-learn how to spend money now that I have it. Considering the difference between costly and expensive helps me work though whether a thing is a good value or not.

4) One / The

“The thing that bothers me about…” or “The problem with…”

Often, it’s not a singular THE but rather a potential ONE of many. “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”

5) Optimal / Perfect

I am deeply vulnerable to perfectionism and have to remind myself that optimal (or even just workable) is generally best.

6) Restless / Agitated

I have a diagnosis of adult ADHD, hyperactive type. So if I am unable to pay attention, it’s not quite because I am easily distracted, but more because I am restless. I want to be done, want to move, want change, want different, different now, let’sgolet’sgolet’sgo.

The more I can stay on the move or engage my body, the easier it is for me to lock in. In unmindful moments, restlessness turns to agitation — agitation I might incorrectly assign to the topic of discussion or the people I’m discussing it with. So I watch for it, or try to. If I ever start to fidget heavily while we’re together, please don’t take it personally. I’m trying to keep the peace.

7) Excited / Nervous

This is a a bit of popular advice in performance and public speaking circles: the difference between excited and nervous is a matter of perspective. It’s like one of those optical illusions — now it’s a rabbit, now it’s a duck — where you can prime yourself to see one or the other. Telling myself I’m excited, not nervous, even if I don’t quite believe it, can make a stressful experience more fun. And if I start having fun, then I actually become less nervous. Brains are weird!

Originally published as List No. 66 of the 7x77 newsletter project.
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