“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Marukami
I learn something new every day.
Many days, it is the same lesson in disguise. Over and over again. I think I will be learning it for the rest of my life.
The lesson is this: We create our own reality. We choose how to share our energy within this reality and what thoughts and actions we want to focus on next.
I don’t mean that we make shitty things happen. Sometimes really bad things happen, and it is completely out of our control. It is simply not our fault.
Some people believe that nothing is random. But there is just too much sorrow and extreme suffering in the world for me to believe this exactly.
I do believe however, that no matter what happens, something good can come from it.
We choose what we want to believe.
And it may take a long time to arrive at this place. And it may take a lot of conscious practice. This is, after all, not an easy task especially when bombarded constantly by grim news.
While I was in college studying abroad on a program called Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to visit The Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. There, where the atomic bomb caused such vast devastation that nothing grew for decades, were now proud trees and smiling children taking photographs with tourists, many of them American.
Inspired by the true story of a young Japanese girl named Sadako, colorful handmade paper cranes symbolized prayers for hope and peace. The story tells us that even while Sadako was dying from cancer, she folded hundreds of origami cranes in an effort to turn her attention towards praying for personal healing and the healing of the world. And with every crane, she made the brave decision to move toward hope and not away from it.
When coping with harrowing circumstances, it is as if we have been split open and the contents come spilling out, sometimes against our will. We may feel like we have little control over our feelings, thoughts, and reactions.
But turning toward our difficulties, not away from them, is what enables us to make the next thoughtful choice.
We also then become more empathetic to the fragility of the human condition. Maybe then we are more inclined to access the wellspring of compassion that lives deep within our hearts softening into our reality.
I have to admit, I get frustrated with people often. Sometimes I stew in this. But after awhile, I choose to believe that we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have been given. And the time between the stewing and compassion is becoming perhaps a tiny bit shorter which is helpful!
Because of the hardships that we endure as humans, our resilience grows and our souls bloom. We can also use these opportunities to become more aware of who we are; our values, what motivates us, and what we need to feel our best. We learn to honor our innate wisdom, surround ourselves with supportive people whom we can trust, and persevere by attempting to find meaning in our struggles.
And always we get to choose what to think and do next.
Fortunately, there are many people who have showed us the way. These uplifting stories are about ordinary people who choose to focus on the solution and not the problem, on the bright side instead of succumbing only to darkness…even though there is nothing wrong with the darkness, and it is an important place to pause from time to time.
Recently, I saw a story about a man who opened up the only store in his neighborhood in New Orleans. There had been no redevelopment there since Katrina. Not one single business. But this kind and determined soul literally spent all of his retirement money on opening a convenient store to help out his neighbors.
Along with selling the essentials there, he provides perhaps something far greater; a sense of community, respect, and hope where there had been little since the storm.
His choice was born from love. He chose to believe in abundance, not scarcity and made a courageous decision without knowing if he would ever be able to save the kind of money he had before.
I am always reminded that I too have a choice as to what to do next when yearning for things to be different than they are.
For example, when I am missing my dad, I am greeted with the eternal knowing that, more powerful than the sadness, is my desire to honor him and bring what I loved about his generous spirit to life.
So I envision what it was like to be in the same room as him. What stands out to me is that he profoundly appreciated the little things; the colorful hibiscus in the backyard, a gin and tonic at the end of the day, hanging with family, the celery in the tuna fish my brother-in-law made, and taking friends from the East Coast to beautiful spots in Arizona for a “50 cent tour.”
He never talked about the potency of living in the moment and looking for the silver lining. He just lived it.
So this morning when I found my tweezers in the car after declaring that someone had most definitely come into the house (again) at night and taken them, I celebrated as if I had won the lottery.
And why not celebrate?
We can always try, as hard as it may sometimes feel, to find something, even if it is one little insignificant thing, to be grateful for. This has become something of a mantra for me.
And these moments inspire other opportunities for gratitude to arise because gratitude begets gratitude. For a brief spell, we may even get to reside in the space of feeling thankful for all of it.
Because there is beauty and potential even when we feel there is none.
And while our genes are powerful and our circumstances heavily influence who we are, what we choose to tell ourselves is equally as important to our well – being.
Being human is the whole enchilada…the whole messy enchilada.
None of us have it totally figured out. And contrary to what we see on social media, no one is happy all of the time. No one is perfect. No one escapes loss. Or disappointment. Or failure.
But here we are.
And still we have choices to make.
Because this is our one beautiful, messy reality.