“People say I’ve had a difficult time in life,
I think I’ve had an exciting time in life”~Iyanla Vanzant.
When my kids were young I attended a conference on educating our children. One way to stimulate your child’s creativity is to suggest a scenario: Suppose you had a space shuttle in your back yard about to set off for space. Tell me three people and three things you would take with you. Unfortunately when I tried it on my child, his response was “Don’t be silly, a space shuttle couldn’t take off from our back yard!” To this day he has a hard time with novels, sees fiction as lies! But the point was that humans are blessed with a fertile imagination if only we can find ways to trigger it.
Unfortunately that which can be a source of inventiveness can also be the seat of stress and worry. We are experts at making ourselves crazy. A teenager who doesn’t answer their phone must be in a terrible situation. Someone late home from work must have been in a car crash. And often these stories that we tell ourselves trigger biological stress responses that ultimately wear down and damage many of our body systems. We get sick from psychological as well as physiological causes.
Buddhists tell us that experiences are just experiences. We are the ones that place a value, whether good or bad, on day to day events. And then our body reacts to that evaluation, not the event itself. So if we relabel negatives as positives, we trigger happy healing hormonal responses instead of the damaging ones. Not always easy as we stand next to our totaled car. How will I get to work? How much will it cost to replace it? How much will the insurance pay? How could that man have cut me off? How dare he leave without seeing if I’m alive? But how about: How lucky am I to be alive?
And we don’t only react to current events. We revisit, rearbitrate, and reargue old scenes. We trace our lives backwards to different choices we could have made. We see how different our lives could have been if we had only known then what we know now. Whether it is career choices, partner choices, baby choices, what if we had taken a different path? It is tempting to compare our lives with others, and see what we believe is success and contentment in those who chose differently from us. Not realizing that we don’t know even a half of their story.
If we are lucky, we can catch ourselves as we travel down these endless loops of self-pity and self-recrimination before we get trapped in the world of what-ifs and if-onlys. Years ago I listened to a man in his twenties resenting the success of his classmates. They were bank managers and successful businessmen. He had a blue collar job. Yet he had been the one helping them with math in school! His anger and resentment gave him an excuse to do nothing about his life; he had cast himself as the victim. He could not see that he would never be the master of his own destiny so long as he allowed himself to wallow in that version of his story.
But imagine, just suppose, that everything that happened to us in our lives up to this point, had put us in the best position to be the best people that we can be? Just suppose, that every crosses (Jamaicanism for trials and tribulations) had been placed in our way to make us stronger? Every challenge that we emerge from teaches us lessons, lessons that not only make us wiser, but make us more empathetic to others who may be going through the same thing.
In one of my classes, at a time when all of us in the class were feeling more confused than ever, with no idea what we were supposed to be doing, the Professor stopped us with a simple statement: You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now. It may sound like empty reassurance, but if you think about it, it is a statement which you can use to stop you in the middle of a meltdown. It can help to remind you that you may be overreacting to life’s challenges and that even though things seem to be overwhelming: You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.
This is not to diminish or belittle the very real hardships and harsh realities that many in the world have to cope with. However, by reframing and reimagining, it may be that we can see solutions that were hidden from our eyes before. We may see that there are people who are waiting for us to reach out to them, who can support us and point us in the right direction. We humans are amazing, and when we focus our energy on the positive, there is nothing we can’t do. Just suppose.
So this weekend, as I prepare to bid farewell to the father of my children, it is tempting to look back and focus on what ifs. Instead I will focus on the what-dids, and see the blessings of my children and grandchildren; and the opportunity to learn from life’s lessons.
May you have a fantastic weekend Family! May you recognize all of the magnificent opportunities that have brought you to today, to place you in the possibility of being the best person you can be. Just suppose….