04/28/2014 06:35 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2014

What a New House Has Shown Me About Being Human

We just bought a house.

It's a great house, but it also needs a lot of work. Some of the work is relatively small -- like painting every ceiling, wall, door, baseboard and square inch of crown molding -- while some is much bigger -- like a complete kitchen and master bathroom remodel.

We've been working on it for a week now. It doesn't look much different than it did last week, but it has provided a fascinating look at being human.

There are ways in which I can think about the job as overwhelming. It's quite easy to become bored with the hard work for little visible progress and frustrated that the mantle needs a third coat of paint or that the smell isn't coming out of the basement carpet.

It's easy for my mind to wonder which month (or even year) it will be when we can finally walk into a clean, comfortable home.

There are ways in which I can think of the house as a money pit and focus on the costs. There are even ways I can think about it that leave me wondering if we made the right choice. And then, there is the rest of the time -- which is most of the time, luckily -- when I'm just there in the moment, scrubbing or painting or replacing.

When I'm just a woman doing what she's doing, none of those other perspectives exist. It's clear that the woman-doing-what-she's-doing state is the default. That's what is natural -- the rest is just a thought-based experience that swirls around me.

Knowing how the human experience works completely changes things. I can't tell you how many times that this understanding has saved me from a world of suffering and poor decisions.

Knowing that experiences come and go in a meaningless, impersonal fashion makes me far less likely to attach much to them. I can be in the middle of a "this is so frustrating" story and see that the frustration I'm feeling is thought-created, not a new-house creation.

Because I have that buffer -- understanding that whatever I'm experiencing in any given moment is only the thought that has found its way into my mind -- I'm somewhat protected from it. I'm far less likely to pin it on the house or the task or even take it out on the innocent husband, kids or dog that might walk into my path.

I'm far less likely to make a rash decision like "buy this," "sell that," "tear down that wall" as an attempt to feel better. I instinctively and deeply know that action will not make me feel better. I'll feel better when I find myself with some different mental contents, not with a different house or an easier situation.

Knowing that my moment-to-moment opinions and emotions are due to my inner environment -- not my outer environment -- has been a lifesaver.

The house and the long list of projects don't have to change at all, only my state of mind does and that's nothing I have to add to the to-do list.

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