We have an unusual amount of exceptionally unexpected things going on in our lives right now, and I am finding it difficult to keep my usual “choose happiness” mindset at the front of my brain. Life’s traumas can do that to us, and spending time sitting with grief and disbelief can be very helpful in dealing with difficult times so we can ultimately get through them safely and healthily. We have to remember that every feeling and emotion we have, especially during the tough periods, is valid and acceptable and okay. We can’t always control what we feel, and it’s the leaning into our truth and our authentic gut reactions that can be the doorway into gaining the valuable lessons learned from these experiences. There is a direct line from pain and suffering to strength and resilience, but we must (unfortunately) go through the muck and mire and stumbling blocks along the way to get there.
One thing that is helping me right now is to consciously make the choice of how I react to the small annoying things that happen, while still under the umbrella of the big difficulty that is taking up the bulk of my mental bandwidth. I cannot control the overwhelming situation hanging over me, but I can thankfully control my attitude toward the day-to-day nuisances and troubles, so they don’t snowball themselves onto the bigger challenge, rendering them more upsetting than they need to be.
For example: The other day I had to unexpectedly rush out of the house to take care of something urgent, and as I approached the door to put on my boots, my socked foot stepped into something mushy. I looked down to see the entire contents of the dog’s breakfast (and what looked like the previous night’s dinner too) in a sizable mess on the floor. My first thought was “SERIOUSLY DOG?! You’re doing this to me NOW?” I ran back upstairs to change my socks and get towels and floor cleaner, all the while muttering to myself about how this was one more thing to add to the ever-growing list of my latest misfortunes.
As I was on my hands and knees cleaning and continuing to curse the current state of things, I thought to myself, I have a whole day ahead of me, I don’t want to spend it being angry and annoyed and miserable. I’ve got to find a way to flip the switch on this. And then I started repeating that over and over to myself, “Flip the switch! Flip the switch!” Meaning, how could I turn this aggravation around and look at it in a different way? So, I consciously brought my mind back to a few months ago when we thought we had lost our dog forever when she ran out of our friend’s open gate and was missing for 2 weeks. At that moment I looked over at my beloved pooch (who was looking quite contrite), smiled and said to myself, “I’m so grateful that I have this mess to clean up because it means she’s still here with us.”
Switch flipped. Mind changed. Attitude shifted.
Just last weekend my husband and I had a mountain of things to take care of and we decided to grab breakfast on the way out of town. The first place had a 50-minute wait, which was time we couldn’t spare because of our massive to-do list. The second place had an hour and half wait. The third place was closed, and by the time we got to the fourth place, they were no longer serving breakfast. As we got in line at a fast-food drive-thru we laughed through our hangry-ness as we realized that we probably would have been just sitting down at the first place by now had we stayed there. So ridiculous, and we chose to focus on the silly irony of that, rather than shake our fists at the world of not-enough-breakfast-places-in-the-area-or-maybe-everyone-was-short-staffed-due-to-the-pandemic-or-fill-in-the-blank-with-any-number-of-justifiable-indignancies-sparked-by-the-situation here.
One more example: Because of the recent horrific wildfires in our town, it has been very emotionally painful to return to our home every few days to pick up the mail and check on the smoke damage mitigation situation. We continue to be tremendously grateful that our house is still standing, but reliving the trauma of the evacuation and witnessing the devastating loss of our community’s homes time and again is taking its toll. Honestly, I did not think there was any way to flip the switch on this, but I received an email from a dear relative who lost her home in a California fire and she offered this incredible insight:
I ride my bike often through an area that was severely burned in our fire. One thought was that Mother Nature starts immediately to make a comeback. The redwood trees started putting on green sweaters. Many trees started growing out of their bases, and when I started watering in our new front yard it went from nothing to a jungle in less than a year. Plants seem to really like the ash. My garden was the best ever this year. We have what is called a snag forest where the fire went through and in short order it became a feeding ground for birds and animals as it brings in beetles and small animals, which is not a bad thing. Like so many things that look bad initially, it can have silver linings. I wish you silver linings.
WOW! Thank you Aunt Becky! I had no idea of nature’s reaction to being burned but I can take an awe-inspiring lesson from it in choosing to use the bad times as a reason to stimulate new growth in myself and resolve to come back from this difficulty with a stronger, clearer, and more purposeful mindset. I’m still getting there, but even just reading her words helped me to flip the switch to look for the silver linings among the physical and mental destruction that we are facing at this time.
Here is a beautiful drawing by Charlie Mackesy that illustrates this idea perfectly:
We have the freedom to react in any way we choose to in any situation. We can see the bad, we can see the good, we can see the adversity and/or we can see the opportunity. We have the capacity to flip the switch in our minds to see anything as a boon, however small or seemingly insignificant. Yes, we grieve, yes, we mourn, yes, we cry, but when the time is right, we can choose to laugh through our tears and make a new path for ourselves out of hope and light and optimism for the future. There is always happiness to be found, sometimes we just need to flip the switch to see it.