Dinner tonight was an unmitigated disaster.
At noon, I started the crock pot to give us tasty, tasty chicken stroganoff. It was a new recipe and I was eager for it to be dinner time so we could try it.
Dinner time rolled around and I start the water for the noodles. Then I go and stir the crock pot, as it’s essentially cooked through at this point.
I did not have a thick, white, creamy sauce coating perfectly prepared chicken thighs.
What I had was a golden, brothy mess interspersed with mushrooms and the occasional curdle of yogurt and cream of mushroom soup.
And I immediately blamed myself.
I followed the recipe to the letter. I even said as much to my wife, who was trying to minimize the damage my self-hatred was doing to me. The fault must have been with the recipe, she said, but I wasn’t listening.
Finally, steaming mad at myself for having ruined dinner and wasted the money that went into it, I went to sit at my computer.
But instead of immediately distracting myself with the further adventures of Yet Another Character Through The Same Game I Keep Playing Over And Over, I silently asked myself a question.
“What do you see?” I answered that I see the character sheet interface in my game.
“What do you hear?” The game sounds from both the PC game and the tablet game I run concurrently (one’s an MMO, the other is a simulation, so the latter doesn’t need nearly the same amount of attention the former does), the air conditioning unit, the sounds of my wife making us turkey wraps as a plan B for dinner.
“What do you smell?” Well, to be honest, I smelled the same thing I smelled before I lifted the lid to the crock pot – chicken stroganoff. At least it smelled right.
“What do you taste?” The neutral taste of the water I had just drunk.
“What do you feel?” I felt frustration at the way dinner had turned out. I felt the couch under my back and butt and upper legs and the floor against the bottoms of my feet. And I felt something else … calmer, more in control.
I went to the recipe page to see if anyone else had experienced this same result and, sure enough, they had. It was recommended to add flour or arrowroot to thicken up the result, but I knew there was no way flour could salvage this mess. The recipe’s contributor also acknowledged that even the desired result is runnier than a typical stroganoff. So now I was calmer and knew that it really wasn’t my fault, it was just a bad recipe.
And my mood lightened, my grip on rationality had returned, and I was looking past the dinner snafu and on toward what we actually had for dinner.
This incident marked the first time I had the presence of mind to do the sensory inquiry on my own, and it worked brilliantly.
I know that these five magic little questions aren’t going to solve all my problems when it comes to stress and anxiety and irrationality. But they may be a stopgap measure to get me to the point that I can listen to reframing statements, and those can be what really pulls me back into a rational frame of mind.
I wish someone had shared these questions with me years ago. Then again, I’m not sure I was ready to listen to their wisdom when I was younger.
I’m ready now. And I hope that this precedent is just the first of many instances where the sensory inquiry interrupts a situation rapidly growing out of control.