Stormy Days

1334 Relax and Succeed - How high is less important

People want to have no bad days, but without those we couldn’t have the happy ones. Things only exist in relation to other things — but that’s a big subject that needs it’s own post.  This one is about how –when we’re experiencing a challenging day– we can still manage our minds well.

Even if we were worse on a hard day than on a much easier day, it’s not how high we climb, it’s how far. On days where we start in a hole, getting up to ‘even’ is an achievement. If we don’t allow that flexibility into our reality, then we have an unhealthy expectation that will lead to feelings of disappointment.

If we forego setting an expectation and just stay in the moment, where we do our best to try to ensure that each moment is as good as we can make it, that can add up to a spiritually successful day.

Those are the days where we don’t get caught up in our own thought-battles, we break free of them despite their emotional gravity. It does not improve the externals of the day, but within that framework, we can still maintain a form of peace. The entire film Life is Beautiful is based on this idea.

Yesterday was a day of frail parents, critical deadlines, upset people, too many places to be at too many times, it included weakness, defeat, some fear and some intense frustration, and it was all done on too little sleep and too much coffee. It was a day where 100 marbles rolled towards me but my hands could only fit 50. It was overwhelming.

Much of the day was spent on frustrating, complex, incorrect and extremely slow automated phone systems. Sometimes we, (a friend helped and got caught up in my frustration), were quite irritable after finally reaching someone, so the best we could do was be good models for quick and earnest apologies over our curt tones. In fact, bad days are generally good chances to practice apologizing.

1334 Relax and Succeed - It isn't our job to shine

It’s fine to have days like that if we didn’t hadn’t previously told ourselves that there is a way to manage life were these days don’t happen. If we accept that they do, then we just kick into managing them.

At the end of the day, if we look up and we can say to ourselves, I did all I could with the energy and awareness I had available, then we don’t need to really do any judgment after that.

Eventually the storm water is under the bridge, the weather passes, and what we have left is that we did what we did with the best of intentions and the day ended up as it did. If it was unpleasant, then the day ending is like getting off a ride we’re not enjoying at a fair.

Even if a day ends up horrible, some are like that in the roughly 28,000 days most of us will average on Earth. Is even 1,000 horrible days really that bad on a 28:1 ratio? If we want more than that, aren’t we getting a bit greedy?

We need those painful experiences that help us feel painful love songs. We lose a lot of empathy for our loved ones if we’ve never had our hearts broken. Empathy relies on us having experienced many kinds of pain. Besides, just the desire for things to always be better will itself add many bad days to our lives.

It does none of us any good if we walk around with idealized ideas about ourselves in our heads. Our lives can experience any weather, any day. We’re not supposed to be able to stop the storms, we’re just supposed to remember that, despite storms, we will live to shine another day.

peace. s

The Tyranny of Expectation

1329 Relax and Succeed - If our expectations are not met

It all happened in the foothills of the mountains, in a cold hard rain, in a tiny trailer that had a leak in the roof. The levelling jacks, the battery and the water pump all failed. Half the stalls in the campground were empty due to just the weather. It was raining so hard we had to keep the fire going or we would never get it going again, so we didn’t have enough wood.

I got really sick, so my friend had to pack up her two little wet, cold kids alone, all so she could drive an hour in each direction just to buy more firewood. The kids were pinging off the trailer walls all weekend. It was freezing outside and diapers meant the little one was in and out of her rain suit constantly. Mud was everywhere, and everything smelled like smoke and sweat and diapers. It was an awesome weekend.

If that seems unlikely or impossible, consider that the only reason that people don’t have worthwhile weekends in situations like that is due to the Tyranny of Expectation.

Rain, cold, crying kids, illness, bad smells, and yet there I was loving it (well, except when I was sickest, then I took a while to happily enjoy not loving it). My contentment in those circumstances is a good illustration of how peace occurs.

The person who gets to go on regular holidays considers time off normal, so they take that for granted and they want more. That’s how anything in nature moves forward –it gather’s more and more life as it goes.

The people with time off, who can afford to go –they’re past wanting any break. That’s assumed. Their current identity owns that reality (or so they believe). Having that, now they want a great holiday. Our ego sets that as a quiet but powerful expectation.

And it comes with strings.

If our expectations are not met we will pay an emotional price. We are disappointed. That is the feeling we get when experiencing the gap that exists between our in-that-moment expectation and our in-that-moment reality. To the contrary, due to my previous context I had it easy this weekend.

1329 Relax and Succeed - Contentment and happiness occur

Nine years of compressed care-giving and earning a living have lead me to experience the same set of rooms, the same set of painstaking and often unpleasant actions, the same frenetic, unpredictable schedule, and the same types of simple conversations and same list of dull tasks, repetitively, for years in a row with no days off. That kind of experience gets etched into anyone’s brain.

I’m not complaining, we’ve found ways to truly enjoy it. I chose it and it has its profound rewards for all three of us. They mostly visit their friends and play games, and it’s made me a better person. But it’s definitely not what one should could call easy or fun, which is why I have the routine. Much of it isn’t very motivating, so the schedule keeps me moving forward. Without it being packed to over-full, I would be even farther behind than I am.

There’s no way one person can get my entire daily to-do list done, so I have to focus on what I can get done and on keeping the biggest fires out. That’s doing well in the current context. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . All of us will have times like this in our lives. We shouldn’t let our egos think something’s wrong.

I’m surviving that well because of the act of acceptance, but the holiday allowed me to make use of the principle that reality is relative. That’s why I had a great weekend. I had no expectations. I was too busy beforehand to even consider thinking of any. I was simply happily anticipating things being different. Otherwise, it had no parameters, so as soon as we’d left home I won.

Despite the rain and cold and challenges, we had fun playing board games and playing make believe, we covered some river safety, respect for plants and animals, and it felt good to model a positive attitude in difficult circumstances because that will be what will become the kid’s version of ‘normal’ when facing adversity.

On top of all of those benefits, the rain made things smell good, and the river was roaring. I also love the sound of a crackling fire and, thanks to the rain, that one needed to be lit all the time just to stay lit. Despite all of the smoke, I look back on the weekend as having been filled with wonderful freshness. It is a joyous thing to be in the presence of the bright spirit of little kids.

Precisely because my life is so repetitive it was easy for me to appreciate the difference and value that even crappy camping offers. But in principle, this can happen even for people living without that extreme contrast.

Disappointment for any of us will begin with anything below our ideal expectation. We are better to have never used our thoughts to create the expectation at all. Contentment and happiness occur not because our situations are ideal, but because we respond to things in a way that respects our time on this Earth. Life is short. We should enjoy as much of it as possible.

Sometimes feeling bad is what we want to do and we should let ourselves have that kind of happiness too. But when we’re ready to feel better, it’s nice knowing that a shift of focus and a dropping of our expectations can quickly convert a bad experience into a good one. It’s a skill worth practicing.

peace. s

Angry People

1324 Relax and Succeed - Anger can be useful to a point

Hands up if you’re one of many people who feel like we’re all surrounded by angry people too often? Many will even concede to being angry people too often lately. It’s a prickly world these days. It feels like it’s time to pause and breathe.

This is not to say that people don’t have very real reasons to be angry. Pain leads to anger, and that comes in many forms, so the legitimacy of everyone’s anger is not the point of this piece. The point of this piece is that anger has its place.

It’s primary job is in motivating human beings out of a state of inertia, which is important. As anyone who’s had to get off the sofa to do weekend yard work knows, inertia can be a major obstacle between ourselves and useful action. Anger is like an explosive force that allows our soul to get moving. Throughout history anger has both taken and saved a lot of lives.

Anger is valid, but it should not be viewed as a final result, or an outcome, or a destiny to simply accept. That pot will eventually boil itself dry.

Anger is a motivator and indicator. Unless it’s being employed to physically fight for our lives, the experience of it is a signal to us that we are in an unacceptable position. Our first and most natural reaction is to respond to that by waking up all of the energy inside ourselves with a roar. Hence the anger.

1324 Relax and Succeed - Do not stop at anger

But to stop at anger is to be corrosive to our own lives. Anger should not exist for its own sake. Once we’re awake we need to calm down, use wisdom, and make a plan to succeed at improving our situation. If we just get angry we’re trapped in a cycle because only we can get ourselves out of our own thought loop habits. The point is for these things to serve us.

Once we realize that we’re angry we can take action to calm down. The anger has done its job. We should thank it, then calm and assess. What is making us angry? Anger comes from fear, so look for forms of threats to things like our income, status, relationships and health. Once we’ve defined the issue, we can focus on that in a strategic way.

If we’re going to allow strong emotions room to swell as we share love or compassion that’s fine. But anger isn’t a place to live. It’s like a stop light. Ignoring it can place us in real danger. Likewise, letting it lead our lives is just as dangerous. We’ll never get anywhere.

If there is action to take we should take that action with confidence. If acceptance is required, we should know that doing so makes us stronger. There is no point in thinking about things if nothing can be done, our thoughts would be better focused on the moment we’re in.

Finally, we also must remember there will also be situations where patience is the best answer but we’re too tired or hungry to deliver it. This is not a failure, this is life. Everyone’s anger will eventually get the best of them. Sometimes we’re the student, and sometimes we’re the teacher. To learn tolerance, we all need examples of people that don’t appear to deserve it, and sometimes we are those people.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Use anger as a signal, do what’s possible. The rest is acceptance. That’s a healthy place to be.

peace. s