The other night after a long day, I got ready for bed and I could hear the distress cry of a cat outside. I went to my window and as I was closing my shutters, I saw the cat right outside my window, one floor down staring up at me, meowing urgently.
My first thought was one of empathy wondering what the cat was trying to communicate and my second thought was, Oh no, she’s not going to sit there all night meowing and keep me from sleeping is she?
It was at that moment, I needed to remind myself nothing is permanent – the good, the bad, the suffering or the joy. (OK the cat did not cause me suffering – lost some sleep, but let’s not be that dramatic!) Yet we often take the things that are bad or causing us pain and suffering and act as if they will last forever. When joy arrives we miss it because we are trying to find a way to cling to the feeling for fear it will vanish as quickly as it came.
As humans we are wired to look for danger, but are we also wired to cause ourselves pain? Are we the cause of our own suffering? Are we missing out on the experience of joy for fear of it’s impermanence?
I believe that through changing our focus we can experience more joy and peace in our lives, though it takes practice. Now this is not to say everything is rainbows and puppy dogs, I’m not practicing pollyanna optimism here. It is to say that if we look for the pony in the pile of shit two things can happen. One, we get excited that although we are up to our elbows in shit that there may be something beautiful in it so it makes what we’re digging through tolerable. The second thing that happens is that we stop focusing so much on the shit because we are looking for something in it, not just staring at the shit itself.
Again, don’t get me wrong, we cannot ignore that we are in shit up to our elbows, but maybe there is purpose in why we are there? Maybe there is benefit in the shit? And maybe if we stop looking at the pile of shit and start digging we’ll find a pony or something else. Maybe we know we we’re looking for or maybe not, but if we begin to dig instead of staring at it and experiencing it in a state of overwhelm, we can begin to clear it up and see what is there.
This does not mean that the pile doesn’t smell badly or that it is pleasant, but looking for the lesson, the good thing that might be in there provides us a way to move through it. It provides an incentive to clean it up and not just stare at it and experience it as a whole pile. It allows us to work through it a bit at a time and get a better understanding of what is in it and sort out if there may be learnings in there.
An example from my life comes from my mother. She used to talk about the gift of cancer. As a 4-time patient of various forms of the disease, I do look to her as a bit of an expert there. She would speak to patients and survivor groups about what cancer enabled her to do versus what it took from her. She spoke of the benefit of the disease bringing to the forefront what was important to her, what she learned about herself and her friends and family through her times in treatment. She looked at life differently because she had faced death. She didn’t deny it was hard, she just focused on what good came from it.
The other night on the phone I was talking with a friend who, as a survivor himself, was now watching his mother take on her own journey with cancer. A comment he made struck me, he said, “I’m amazed at how strong she is, I had no idea.”
It was such a beautiful comment and even as I write this it brings tears to my eyes. As a mother myself, I think we often down play our strength or it seems to be taken for granted. For this son to be able to experience his mother in a new and beautiful light is an incredible pony in the terrible shit that is this illness.
So as we move through our days, we know that some will be joyful and some will not and that is the way life is experienced. What we can do is create our focus point so that when the joyful times come we are present to enjoy every bit in that moment and know that although it wont last forever, it will come again.
As you face painful or uncertain times your focus is essential to move through them knowing that these times will not last forever either. I encourage you not to sit in the big pile of pain rather to begin to dig into it a little at a time and ask for help if it’s really tough. If necessary, bring in an entire excavation team so you are supported as you dig through it.
Having experienced many piles in my own life, I have found that there is always something I learn from the tough times. As I focus on my learning instead of the pain I find peace returns and I am able to move through the pile better.
As I write this we are facing unprecedented uncertain times. Even though I began this post before the preverbal shit hit the fan, it seemed to be good timing to publish it as I work hard in my own life to remain focused on the lessons and pray for this to pass. I am hearing from my community they are in this shit with me and if we all dig maybe we can fill a whole stable by the time it passes!