Tragedy. Misfortune. Accidents. These are inevitably aspects of our lives. In the river of life there are eddies where the energy is going in the opposite direction from the river itself. And there are the rapids—the times where the river is shallow and rough and noisy. And lives not only have rapids, they have waterfalls too. There are times where the flow of your life is crashingly redirected around some hard new reality, like learning you are undesirably pregnant, or if you ended up in a wheelchair—or caused someone else to be in one. Because for all of us equally, as life winds its way back to the sea, it will surely flow its way through tragedy.
So why do some people move through these times relatively gracefully, while others can completely fall apart?
After the tragedy, some people innocently continue to think about it. They use their thoughts to compare what happened to what they expected to happen. They argue with God that they were short-changed on some deal. They regret their own actions. They blame others. They presume doom. And it seems to come true, because there is simply no way to feel good when you’re thinking thoughts that feel like that. Yet when things feel like doom it gets blamed on the event rather than on the person’s thinking.
Healthy people try to avoid imagining their future and prefer to stick in the Now, so they never did build a castle in the sky with their thinking—so being told they can’t live there is a non-issue. Healthy people are also realists, and so they know that rapids and waterfalls are inevitable as the river drops back to the one-ness of the sea. When those times arrive they greet them in the same way they do with all of the other moments in their life: without argument. Because the real sense of tragedy comes from the argument with reality, not reality itself.
Sometimes life will give you down-slopes, and simple gravity will make it easy for you to achieve what you want to. But other times it will place substantial or even insurmountable obstacles in your path and you will need to struggle to find your way. But whether it’s easy going or tough, what is is what is and we don’t just have to survive that—we can thrive in it. We just have to stay conscious.
Expect that you will begin to tell yourself painful stories in the midst of a tragic event. But those stories will lead to unpleasant and undesirable feelings, and the very purpose of those feelings is to communicate to you that you should alter your thinking. So make the pain your friend. Let it be your guide out of the darkness. It’s great exercise. It’s a life skill everyone should learn. Because talking about or judging our life is to not fully live it. Because there’s no reason to let a good life flow past while we sit on the shore discussing a bucket of dirty river-water as though our opinions on the shore will ever matter to the river itself.
If things are good, be grateful. They’ll change. If things are bad, be grateful. They’ll change.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.