“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl.
When I was young, I hated being called the ‘baby’ of the family. I was the youngest, big distinction. I did not like to be picked up and carried either. Perhaps it is a feature of being the youngest, that you aspire to be treated like the older siblings. Or perhaps it was just me. It didn’t help that when my family moved from the UK to Jamaica, I was not quite eight years old, and a novelty in the district we moved to. Apparently, I looked like a doll, so my nickname was ‘Dolly-baby’ (hated it!). At the time, dolls were uniformly white, so the comparison was not unfair. I was probably the first child in the area to have a black doll, as a matter of fact.
But like most kids of that age, I mostly wanted to be independent, and soon made friends with kids from church who lived just up the road, or just down the hill, and was allowed to wander off to go and play while my mother tried to make the huge cultural shift from English city housewife to Jamaican country living. I, meanwhile, was able to embark on my own anthropological adventure, immersing myself in Jamaican family life, discovering (without knowing it consciously) that human beings have far more in common than the superficial differences of skin color and hair texture would suggest.
There is an innocence in childhood that allows us to merely experience, rather than judge, and since I came to Jamaica with no preconceptions, I was able to base my opinions on my own interpretation, not those implanted by others. Which is very difficult to do as we get older and influenced by pre-digested information. One of the challenges for sociological researchers is to be able to ‘bracket’ any pre-existing judgments you may have about the subjects you are about to study. If you go into an interview thinking you already know the answers, you may miss something that no one else has seen.
I recently listened to an interview with an English chef. She had written a cookbook entitled ‘Cook, eat, repeat’ which seems to summarize the mundane and repetitious aspects of daily life. I am often discouraged, when performing household tasks like cleaning or washing clothes, that no matter how thorough a job you do, you are only going to have to do it all over again in a few days. One of the realities of a complicated home-cooked meal is the kitchen cleanup which follows. But the chef had a totally different approach to the daily task of preparing a meal. She had turned it into a meditation, an act of mindfulness that changes it from a boring necessity into an act of conscious appreciation. Savoring the aromas, the textures, and the colors of the foods you are preparing; anticipating the enjoyment of the meal to be enjoyed, transforms the mundane into a creative expression of joy!
There is no reason why we can’t approach other tasks that way. They say that when you spend your week longing for the weekend you are wishing your life away. They also say that when you work at a job you love, you are rich, for you are being paid for doing something you enjoy. But often we approach our jobs with a sense of resignation, of frustration, allowing the negative and repetitive tasks to be obstacles instead of changing the way we see them.
We often have to teach student nurses the importance of having the right attitude at work. You may receive report from the off going nurse who warns you what a bad day you are going to have. The group of patients you have been assigned are difficult, needy, demanding, requiring way too much of your precious time and attention. If you are lucky, you forget all about that warning, and are halfway through your shift before you remember what you were told and wonder ‘what was wrong with that nurse?’ for you have had no such problems.
When we teach the course on mental health, we encourage nursing students to do a lot of self-reflection, a checking of attitudes and preconceptions. Mental health unfortunately is an area so full of misinformation and stigma that it is hard to ‘bracket’ out your preexisting feelings. But just like other disorders, before too long you can recognize yourself in the list of symptoms! But we also teach mental health promotion, in a way, mental hygiene is as important as physical hygiene.
In their textbook, the first item on the list of things to do to promote mental health (and to be honest, many of the activities on the list are essential for well-being in general) is a positive attitude. It is easy to see everything as a problem when you walk into your day expecting difficulties. As teachers we have found how toxic and contagious a negative attitude can be in a classroom, changing the group energy in a way that can be very difficult to turn around. But it may be that we have permitted negativity to seep into a space, by the way we present information. Perhaps we have prejudged the situation, and by anticipating negativity we have allowed it to fester. A little more self-awareness on our own part may come in handy!
This Friday morning, I hope you can approach your day with the joyous eagerness of a child who seeks only to encounter new experiences and adventures. I hope you can find a way to turn a mundane, repetitive task into a sensory delight! Some days it may be that you take a moment to stop and appreciate a beautiful sunrise, or a drop of dew on a flower, or a bird warbling away with no regard for bills, or deadlines, or reports. It is up to us to find the meaning in our life, to make our life meaningful, and to be thankful for the ability to see, smell, hear, taste, feel and savor each moment of the day.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!