My 7-year-old niece ran up to me complaining, “my mother is making me cry!” After giving her a warm hug, I held her away from me and looked at her. I wondered what would be a befitting response and instinctively took a mildly playful approach.
I said, “Oh, you mean your mother has a remote control for you? And it has a button for your tears and another for your smile?”
I was amused at the instant change in her expression; she looked back at me with slightly widened eyes; I knew something had hit home! I held the silence for her to take in the new angle.
Eventually she said, “No, she doesn’t!”
“Can anyone make you cry? Or smile?”, I asked.
At this, her frown deepened; I could see her tiny mind processing it.
“No!”, she said.
I paused again and asked her, “Who has the remote control to your tears and smiles?”
She broke into a smile and almost shouted, “I have!!!”
She hugged me again, a quick one this time; and was off to play with her sisters.
We see life as binary – only two options
What this sprightly little girl has learnt at seven, has taken years for me; in fact, I could say, ‘work in progress’, as I still, at times, struggle to find those shades of grey between chance and choice; between losing control and being in total control; between despair and hope!
It’s interesting that we think of situations in terms of either/or, black/white, yes/no, flight/fight! Is it probably because it’s straightforward and uncomplicated? Or perhaps because we swallowed our opposites in kindergarten so wholesomely? – big/small, happy/sad, fat/thin, pretty /ugly!
This habit has therefore become the yardstick to measure success. We have ‘winners’ or ‘losers’; while many of us fall into the category of ‘swimmers’ and ‘floaters’ in between. If I looked back the path I’d walked, I’m amazed at the extent of my journey. I have travelled across the continuum between the abysmal low and the glorious high! It’s not my experiences at the extremes that make my life interesting, but those at the several pit-stops in between the extremes.
Life needs to be seen as a continuum
There were times when I had given up and succumbed to negative thoughts and feelings. There were, on the contrary, times when I had fought back, risen above and taken charge of my life. Right from the mundane day-to-day routine, to the significant life-changing events, I have either despaired and called it ‘chance’ or conquered and called it ‘choice’.
I recalled one of my favourite quotes of Rumi, “Why should I stay at the bottom of the well when a strong rope is in my hand?” A few years ago, I would have made this the theme of my write-up. How I now interpret it is that, giving up to chance means no control and hopelessness while taking charge and making choices mean tight control and grandiosity, both of which are not quite as polarised as they seem.
Yes, while I have a strong rope in my hands, while the choice of hoisting myself up and out of the well is in my hands as well, I need to surrender to the unknown, the imponderables; I need to accept and embrace the hurdles that may present themselves while I be in the continuum; and climb. My husband and I once made a life-altering choice and felt proud and validated; however, we were little prepared for the challenges that were in store.
Walking the continuum between Chance and Choice
How then do I find the balance and walk the continuum?
Is this problem/situation relevant to me? Does this have a solution? Is the solution in my hands; in my control? How much of an effort do I need to put in? Once again, I turn to philosophy, to quote an American theologian: (Reinhold Niebuhr) “God give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference!” It sums it all up, doesn’t it?
Put in the best, but don’t struggle
Quite often, when I try so hard to get something done, I find myself frustrated with no useful outcome. When I make decent efforts with an open mind, I emerge closer to winning. At times, not to do anything is a choice in itself; the mind has a back office, where things are processed away from the lime-light and the unconscious then offers a suggestion; an idea, a way through which may not be exactly what I expect, but something which works beautifully.
Labels are irrelevant
Why do I have to label myself as something? Winner, loser, successful, failure, right, wrong – these are labels that limit my growth, both intellectually and spiritually. What I need is faith in myself and trust in the higher cosmic energy with a willingness to accept what life offers. It isn’t equivalent to giving up; it only means that I own all my thoughts and feelings, embrace all my experiences, while staying positive through thick and thin.
This plays a vital role in the way I perceive events, people, interactions and relationships. The map in my mind is not the territory! However, I tend to think so! When I achieve something, I expect praise; when I offer something, I expect gratitude. This is subtle and unconscious, but the disappointment that stems out of it seems so much of a reality. Over the years though, I have learnt to modify my approach and tone down my expectations. I once attended a workshop on REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy); one of the things that struck a chord in me was the question, “where is it written that people and life must always be fair to me?” Isn’t that profound?!
Play one ball at a time
Sportsmen’s favourite phrase! While keeping the goal in mind, turning the focus to what is possible at the moment, makes it easier and attainable. Biding time, changing pace, according to situation and playing to the field are the keys. I don’t need to rush in headlong, take giant steps or keep running all the time.
Practice Mindful Living
What is Mindfulness? Being in touch with my core self, which in turn facilitates a connect with the other! My external contacts are best informed to me by my internal contact. I need to have a working relationship with myself; ask questions; be honest. I must feel comfortable with all parts of myself – the good and the not so good. If I’m not comfortable about aspects of myself, it’s important to embrace the discomfort as well. Each part, each emotion, each feeling, each thought – each belongs to me that I own as mine!
Be sensitized and sensitive
There is so much value in being sensitive to what the other is going through and where and how do my statements land. While I’m forging ahead towards my goal, to be mindful of the implications; to make sure I’m not trampling someone else’s dreams in the run up towards my own. When I’ve run the race, I must feel happy, free of shame or guilt and feel aligned with my moral and ethical stance.
Walk the continuum between two extremes; experience every moment for what it brings and make the choice to act or not; with awareness and mindfulness.
Life is not so much about ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’! It’s about how to be!
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