Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mother Teresa on Feeling Overwhelmed

225px-MotherTeresa_090.jpgSometimes God hits you between the eyes with something you need to read. That would be this piece, one of the beautiful contributions to Elisha Goldstein’s new EBook, “A Mindful Dialogue: A Path to Working with Stress, Pain and Difficult Emotions.”

Quite appropriately for me this week, the following reflection is on how to deal with feeling overwhelmed.


We can do no great things – only small things with great love.

If you haven’t heard this quote before it is a classic and so meaningful to our everyday lives. In essence, this is a quote that can be seen as embodying the essence of humility. However, I think there’s also a different way to see it.

In times of anxiety or depressed mood, a number of unwanted feelings arise and the mind tends to look at the mountain and not see the little steps it takes to get up that mountain. As a result, it seems completely overwhelming to climb the mountain and motivation is sapped immediately leading to inaction which then confirms the depressed mood.

What if we were able to summon this quote when we were feeling overwhelmed to remind us that we don’t have to do a great thing (e.g., cleaning the entire house, working out for a hour, making a gourmet dinner), but instead can break it down to do small things, with great love.


clay pot.jpeg

One time I was explaining this to a man I was working with who was an artist. He made pottery. He said, “I don’t understand, when I make the pot I just go ahead a make it. However, I’m not feeling motivated to make pottery lately and so I just don’t do it, I’m such a failure.” As we got into it, we began to break down his work into little things.


He had to decide which clay to buy, get his tools prepared, wedge the clay and then spend time with it shaping it. There were other steps involved too.

I said to him, “What if this didn’t have to be one great act, but small acts with great love?” We thought about being more present with the small steps and not putting so much pressure on the finished project.


As we do in any mindful approach, it’s important to understand how to work with the wandering mind. For this man, his mind did wander onto the finished product and he became overwhelmed at times. He had to notice this when it happened without judgment, come back to his breath, and bring his intention and attention back to just working with this “small thing” with “great love.” While it wasn’t always easy to bring the “great love,” he tried to think of the pleasure others were going to derive from this pot and this helped him at times relax into the moment.


For the rest of us, when our minds are starting to swim with the “mountain,” we can always bring ourselves back to the present by anchoring our attention to our breath or bodies and choose to recalibrate to bringing our awareness to the small things in the moment.

For me, sometimes in the morning my mind begins to swim with all the work I have to do in the day. However, it’s often my job to make breakfast for my family. Thinking of the mountain of work I have, I often get frustrated initially. When I notice this, I come back to focusing on one thing at a time and remember that I am nourishing myself and my family so we can be well in this world and pass that onto others. I even bring the practice of lovingkindness to the process sometimes saying, “May this food support you in being healthy in body and mind.” While this isn’t a panacea, it often changes my experience of making breakfast.


Note: None of us have to be Mother Teresa to practice this 😉 What are some other ways you can bring great love to small things?

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  • Susan

    This post is just what I needed. Life itself is overwhelming at times. We are in a situation that I am deeply grateful for and yet it can be overwhleming to go from semi-retired to helping raise 3 grandchildren under the age of 5. Small things with love is the only way…yes, indeed. Thank you.

  • Jamie

    Just thinking of doing small things with “great love” in this moment has hit me square in the heart.
    I am a musician who hasn’t played in a long time and I suddenly got the thought while reading the story about the man and the bowl that I could just go and pic out guitar pics…even though I usually play with the same ones. I could try different ones. It seems like fun. I could take my guitar with me and try them out at the store.
    Something this small “shouldn’t” be fun, but it seems like I can do it. It’s part of me as a musician, but it doesn’t put all the added ‘YOU HAVE TO BE A STAR TOMORROW’ on me stuff. I’m just trying out guitar pics.
    Thanks so much for this Therese!! Blew my little depressed mind open a bite

  • Sandy

    Therese, You are talking to me this morning. I do some pottery and clay sculpture at home in the garage. It seems I’ve lacked motivation lately even if I know it is good for my depression to work in the studio. Finding myself being so critical of the finished product as left me ready to give it up. Also I need to use it in all areas of my life.
    I’m going to try using this quote to get me back at it. Also, I need to use it in all areas of me life since I recently retired and feel lost without all the responsibility. Thanks8

  • Quiring

    Small baby steps with allot of love is how I did the project I am doing now. I love to sew and wanted to do something special with my talents. I volunteered to help make costume for a community play (My Fair Lady) So I wouldn’t take on too much at once I told them a would make 6 pair of bloomers. I plan on taking those to the costume person when I am finished then getting another small project to work on. This way I am feeling useful but not overwhelmed.
    I too am retired and it’s taken me awhile to know what my talents are and joy is away from work. This site diffenatly helps. Thanks so much.

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