Stop thinking — and eat a mango

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

“I don't know who I am, but I know I like mangoes.”

That's probably not what you think about when you're relaxing in the break room or enjoying a Xanax lozenge while waiting for the survey team to arrive. But that's the thought that accosted me in my kitchen a few days ago.

I haven't purchased tropical fruit for years, because it just seems so expensive and decadent. But for some reason, this week I did. And as I paced back and forth wrestling with the essential question of my identity, I realized there was only one thing I really knew for certain at that moment. And it involved mangoes.

Everyone struggles with who they are and their purpose in life. Whatever you do — whether you're a long-term care administrator, director of nursing, med aide or maintenance associate — you're pondering it. We all are. Wondering if you've found your niche. Realizing that life is short, and worrying that your legacy will be like a hand pulled from a bucket of water — with nothing left behind once the ripples calm.

But according to Oprah's spiritual guide and guru, Eckhart Tolle, some things aren't necessarily meant to get all figured out. “If you can be absolutely comfortable with not knowing who you are, then what's left is who you are — the Being behind the human,” says Tolle in his mega-selling book, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose.”

Maybe that sounds like undiluted mumbo or indecipherable jumbo, but I think that peaceful German is right. When we stop trying so hard in our minds to define ourselves, we become what he calls “pure potentiality.” Not only can that give a lot more meaning to whatever we're doing right now, it leaves us open to all kinds of unexpected opportunities in life.

Maybe that's why so many frontline caregivers I know in long-term care all seem so peaceful and content. It takes a serious comfort level in one's own skin and a focus on the present moment to open the heart completely to something as intangible as a continual series of compassionate interactions with vulnerable people. Maybe they've figured out that too much self-obsession is a poor use of valuable time, especially when there's a world of hurt to soothe.

So what do we do about that uniquely human yearning and inner quest for self-knowledge that occupies our minds and distracts from the meaning and beauty of now? Put it aside, Tolle might say, and instead discover ourselves by fully experiencing and participating in every moment. In our work with our residents and colleagues. In our family time. When we're alone with our renegade thoughts. No matter how hard we try, endless mental exertion won't reveal our true selves, which are deep within and already exist anyway.

In other words, let's all just stop thinking about it so much. And eat a mango.

Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.