Finding Strength

When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.

There is no question that at various points in life we will find obstaclees placed in our path. What did you expect? Did you think that life would be one smooth travellator, where once you have got on from birth, it would just be a matter of coasting along?

The above analogy highlights an important thing. Life is not smooth. Things happen. This could be a career incident – being made redundant, or being fired. Or it could be something to do with relationships – a breakup. But because life is never smooth anyway, we can’t view these occurences as the disruption to the natural order of things. Instead we should view them as a part of a natural order of things.

You can find this change in mindset really helpful. When something goes wrong, don’t waste energy thinking “Why did it go wrong? Why is life so unfair?” Now, the severity of the bad thing may lead us down this path. But if we see obstacles as occurring naturally anyway, learning to deal with them could result in emotional growth. How we control our instant unbridled reactions, and instead focus on dealing with them, is what gives us emotional growth and a base to lay future foundations on.

Instead of wallowing in anger or pity – or perhaps allow yourself some opportunity to feel this way -focus your energies on what you can do and how you can dig yourself out of a poor situation. Sometimes, a healthy mindset helps. When a person loses a job for example, it is easy to panic at how you will manage for the next few months without a job. The higher the stakes, the higher the panic. But focus your energies into thinking how you can work things out financially, and drawing up contingency plans. This is a way of teaching yourself not to panic whenever something “bad” or unexpected happens. And the next time something like this happens again, you will have had the positive experience to deal with it again, instead of reinforcing it with a mixture of panic, guilt and fear.

Our natural reactions are to panic and let bad things destroy us. But we can learn to turn adversity into action and let it define us, and build our character.

What is really important is to realise that we have a choice. We of course don’t choose the bad things that happen to us, but we have a choice in deciding how we will react and respond. That we can control. When bad circumstances happen, often the initial feeling of fear and panic is developed from a lack of control over the happenings. We all feel calm when we have a measure of control than if we had not. So work on establishing and creating some form of control over situations. Choose how you feel. Choose how you react.

Better to burn out than fade? Use experience to achieve balance

Sometimes in life we feel drained, when we have tried to do too much and it takes a toll not only on our physical being but also of our mental health. What can we do? it is a good idea to take a break, and the length of this break depends on how deep we are into this kind of negative thinking or perhaps even depression.

Why is a break good? And how long does it take before we come out of the other end of the tunnel?

Scientists refer to this break as taking time away to refocus, to reset our neural circuits. When we overthink situations or spend too much time exploring different avenues, our minds go into overdrive trying to think out various contingency situations for which only one is needed, but because we need speed and responsiveness we try to do everything so that when the time comes we do not have to spend precious time thinking. But the problem can be that we have invested so much time thinking out possible scenarios, that by the time we have to act on one, we have already exhausted ourselves and our energies.

The flip side of this is inaction. For some people this is the mode of choice – to others it looks like they have given up. But being resigned to circumstances and expecting life to shape itself out for you, so that you can drift along with the tide is a bit of irresponsibility, a sort of transference that borders on having given up.

What can we do then? The narrow road is finding a balance between the hyperactive mindset and the inactive mindset. It is not necessarily better to be burnt out than to fade away. In some situations it may be more self-preserving to fade away that to expend energy being burnt out. It all comes down to balance. Sometimes we need to find that balance between expending too much and too little energy for the things we need to do in our lives. And how does that balance come about? Experience.

Listen, then talk

How can you help a friend who needs someone to talk to? Often when we think of someone in need, we should realise that what they need is someone to listen without judgement. This “without judgement” may even extend to listening without dispensing advice. Because when someone has an awful lot of their chest and wants to talk about it, sometimes our “advice”, no matter how well meaning, only increases the tension because we are only giving them more thoughts to think about, when they are trying to get rid of all these thoughts in their head.

Sometimes people have problems because they are overwhelmed. They could be overwhelmed with work stresses or they may have too many things going on at home or in relationships that cause their mind to be filled with thoughts. Like it or not, every thought sends a trigger to your mind. Take for example this situation: You are travelling on public transport and someone plays their music loudly. Your mind recognises this bit of information. “The music is too loud.” And almost instantly it is also thinking, “should I say something about it?” Then after this step your mind is assessing whether or not the person you are about to speak to would be receptive towards what you would have to say or not. Your mind makes judgements about it. And then perhaps if you have assessed it would be safe to do so – you think the individual would be non-aggressive, perhaps unaware of the anti-social behaviour he or she is causing – then you think of the best way to phrase your words. Or if you don’t, your mind castigates you for not having the courage to stand up for yourself and you start evaluating your own life history for such previous instances. Your mind has gone into overdrive simply because someone has played loud music. Just that one trigger has become a stressor and caused you mental overload.

So when someone is stressed, they could have a lot of mental information to process. Let them talk it out. Don’t offer advice initially because they have then to process it, consider your words and their own thoughts. Only when you feel they have emptied themselves, should you then start to think about offering advice. Be a listener for your friend. Not a stressor. No matter how well-intentioned you are, you may inadvertently cause more problems for your friend if you are too keen to dispense advice!

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.

Marianne Williamson

The laws of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Many of us bring this law into our lives in the form of retribution. If someone has done us wrong, our natural tendency is to pay it back in equal measure. After all, if we follow some of the axioms around us, such as “What goes around comes around”, they would seem to suggest that we “get what we give” and “give what we get”. Or if we are taught to “do unto others as you would others do unto you”, you might feel that if someone has wronged you then they should get a taste of their own medicine.

Can you see how many axioms I’ve quoted in the previous paragraph that seem to support the law of equal force or return? We are predisposed to react in a certain way, and in certain situations a lack of an equal response may be viewed as being a pushover. If someone punched you, and you stood there and turned the other cheek, they might have just taken it as a sign to keep on doing so, because in their minds they would only stop when they get a response, because that is what they assumed most people would do – give a response.

So it may be difficult when someone suggests that when you are wronged, to forgive the other person. After all the law of equal measures means that there is a force that must somehow be suppressed or dissipated within you. This is exactly why it is suggested that we see forgiveness not as a suppression but as a miracle. Somehow, somewhere, we need to absorb the injustice by looking beyond our natural instincts. And we need to let it go.

We live in a world that is high on stimulus. Our world is filled with various things that fight for our attention – work stresses, texts, social media, social injustice, anti-social behaviour, advertising, entertainment – that our minds are more heavily bombarded than those of our parents’ generation. There is so much stimulus going on that we need to filter things out rather than bombard our minds with more triggers. So “attack thoughts” towards others are actually stressors on our own minds. Forgiveness is not often easy but it is a long-term way of saving ourselves.

Keeping personal accounts in the black

In life we all have moments of sadness and moments when we feel down. Sometimes, we rationalise in our minds the things that we could have done differently, the things we might have to have landed ourselves in a bad situation, and the things we could do to break out of this funk. All of these take up tremendous mental resources, leaving us fatigued, sometimes unable to find the energy to perform daily functions such as work, or keep up social commitments, which impact on other areas of our lives. Before we know it, we have slowly slipped into a depression-like state, and it is very hard to climb out of.

How do we define depression? I have sometimes looked at it from the perspective of a bank account. Depression is when you are in the red for many bank accounts. Physical energy? Low. Happiness? Low. Enthusiasm? Low. Money? Possibly low. The problem when you have many of such “Low” accounts is that when you try to fix one such account, you end up having to withdraw from another. When you need a change of scenery, and perhaps work is bothering you, maybe you need to spend funds you do not have to go on a holiday. Perhaps when your enthusiasm for life is low, and you need to do something about it, you have neither the energy of time. And when you do perhaps, splurge in order to meet an impulse need, you end up withdrawing a large amount from one of your accounts.

How did you get into that state and what can you do to avoid that? It is like sinking into a deep hole and trying to climb out of it. You can only slowly dig the sides of the hole around you, and then try to pile up the debris you have dug, to stand on, so that you are incrementally getting higher and higher and out of the hole. But digging takes energy which you don’t have, and some how you need to find the will to keep going.

But more importantly it would be better if you never got into the hole in the first place. If there is an area of your life that needs attending to, channel all the other resources into addressing it, so that it does not slide and drag the other areas along with it. And if you know someone who is depressed, just offer your time to listen, to let them talk. Often when you give suggestions, it is like asking someone to do things, drawing resouces from already depleted accounts. Depression is like a mental wall and talking to someone else is like removing a brick of the wall at a time.

Sliding doors

When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so long regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.

– Alexander Graham Bell

In daily life we have to achieve some sort of balance between direction and opportunity. And just what exactly do I mean by that? We have to have a certain idea of how we would like our life to be – that is our direction. This gives us a certain focus and thing to aim for. Without one, we just end up being washed along by the tide of ambivalence, going along with what is determined for us. It is good to have ideas and focus, but these need to be revised along the journey in life. We might want certain things from life, but these are visions which we have to balance with opportunity and reality. Harsh reality, some might say.

For example, you may wish to be an engineer. You may undertake your undergraduate studies but midway a family crisis may mean you have to go out to work to provide for the family, and have to abandon your studies temporarily for that purpose. Or you harbour thoughts of being a fashion designer, but cannot raise the finances to train for that. In both cases, you cannot merely just bulldoze your way to achieve your dream. At least, not without causing great distress to the world around you. The pursuit of your dream, without balance, will only cause you great unhappiness once your initial drive has stalled.

When our expected view of life meets reality, often the change that is imposed on us causes on temporary unhappiness, when we realise that we have to make changes. But instead of dwelling on what could have been, it is better to focus the energy on what could be. After all, it could be argued that today’s world offers so much variety, that too much choice is only more confusing. When one door closes, look at it as life filtering out your choices so as to limit and focus them more finely. When one of your many doors closes, look at it as you not having to consider that option in future decisions. And the ones that remain become better options, that are gradually more in tune with your life journey.

So don’t regret the closure of the one door. Try to see which of those that remain become better future options.

Thoughts on Depression

If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

– Stephen Fry

 

Depression is one of the things that many people go through. I would even say many of us go through it, because I have, and I am sure that at some point in your life you will have had too.

And if you have not suffered from it before, perhaps it is hard to imagine what it would feel like. Sometimes you may even be dismissive of depression and its existence, you may – as I have been guilty of in the past – even think that sufferers are merely malingerers, unable to work and simply finding an excuse not to go to work or to get out of bed.

Depression is crippling. Those suffering may find that it gives life a somewhat negative filter. You look through it through a dark lens, and unfortunately when you are in that funk, it is very hard to get out of.

How does one lapse into depression? There are many reasons, but one of them is the result of going too hard, too long. Life has its various stresses, such as financial, family, work, and while at various points in life one of these stresses may surge and grow out of proportion in comparison to the others, and when you are under this stress and your attempts to initially fight it are rebuffed, then not only is it physically tiring, it is also mentally tiring as it sends your mind into overdrive, which tires you out, so eventually you may find that even though you may know what you need to do, you may actually lack the energy to do it, and the disconnect causes you depression, which becomes only sapping in itself.

Depression is something that must be worked through. It is a cycle of incremental gains, slow positivity, that helps one out of depression. And sometimes we find that the thing that has been causing us depression, is removed through time. For example, many men report depression in their thiries and forties, at at time when they have young children, when they experience life stresses of having to be the breadwinners while not being at home to see their child grow up, being away from home while wanting to be home, yet returning home only to have their spouses, tired from the stresses of looking after children, snap at them when they return. And they wonder why their wives suggested having children in the first place …? Do you know someone like that? This can easily cause someone to lapse into depression. But when children grow up, and these stresses are removed, the depression is lifted with time.

Perhaps it is worth considering the thought that depression is the disconnect of an overworked mind and a physically tired body. The mind has been going into overdrive and the body is tired, and the soul is unhappy because the body has no energy or mental will to do the things that need doing.

So whenever you encounter someone with depression, don’t offer advice. Don’t give them more mental triggers that tax their minds, and your advice, no matter how well-meaning, only drains their mental energy. Listen if your friend needs a listening ear, because in the course of talking through their troubles your friend may be relieved of them, and all the mental associations they spin off. You can help your friend mentally filter out the mental thoughts that cause depression. Help them do something physically active to work off the depression when they are ready.

To paraphrase Stephen Fry, if someone you know is feeling cold because it is snowing, you can’t help them by asking why it is snowing. Just huddle with them, keep them warm, until the snow passes. It is truly a noble thing that you can do.

Managing change

Change is something we all have to embrace. Some of us are more welcoming of it, while others are more resistant. There is nothing right or wrong about these attitudes, they are normal human reactions.

Why do some people welcome change? For some people, change brings variety and a new scenery – whether physical or mental – and being in a new situation creates a buzz of some sort. Being in a new situation brings new stimulus – mental and physical – which they enjoy.

For the others, the new stimuli is what they seek to avoid. They do not enjoy the new stimulus that comes with change.

But that does not mean we ought to criticise these people. When you look at why people avoid change, it may give you some insights into their life.

Let’s say you are a busy mother with three children, trying to balance a part-time job with running your family. Change for your children is good and exciting, but for you, the logistics of going to new places and clubs and doing new things may cause you stress. And if you move your children to a new home or school, this brings about new concerns that you may not have the capacity to deal with at the point in time.

So change is good, as long as you have the energy to deal with it. If you are in a stressful moment in life, then change is obviously not the thing to strive for. Try to adapt to a sense of calm normality in order for your inner spirit to equalize. There is nothing wrong to avoid change at that period in time. What we must avoid is to make over-generalisations about situations and our reactions to them.

Sometimes you can’t help but face change – and if you tend to react less positively about it, then focus your energies on changing the way you view the situation. Change the way you think, rather than fight the change – it may be less draining and less of an energy spend. Focus on building the new rather than fighting the old.

And if you are the sort that loves change and variety – enjoy it!

Change is inevitable. Life is full of changes, some big and some little. If there was none, we’d still all be babies in nappies. So we can’t go through life hating change and wishing there was none, but we have to see it as a natural progression of life, and manage it appropriately. If you like change, embrace it. If you dislike it, learn to manage it, and your reaction to it. Let that be your thought for the coming days.

Expressing gratitude

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Have you noticed how people seemed to have forgotten how to say thank you properly these days? When you have a done a favour for someone, or gone out of your way, sometimes the only response you get is a curt “cool”.

This is not a rant at changing times or the slang of modern vernacular, or how the use of the words “thank you” are decreasing.

Rather, it is a look at how we have to be mindful of the way we express thanks.

Imagine this scenario. You have forgotten your phone and someone from your home has to bring it to you, knowing that perhaps it is an important element you cannot leave home without. If they make a big trek to your location, and all they get for the efforts is the phrase “cool” or “nice one”, how do you think they feel?

The problem with phrases such as “cool” or “nice one” is that they are sometimes uttered unthinkingly out of embarrassment, but they are so ungracious that it almost normalises the efforts of others, almost as if the extra mile they have gone was an expectation.

Be gracious for the things in your life and around you. And try expressing it fully to your fellow human beings.

Thoughts on love

To love someone is to acknowledge the goodness of who they are. Through loving a person we awaken their awareness of their own innate goodness. It is as though they cannot know how worthy they are until they look into the mirror of our love and see themselves.

It is an enlightening moment when we realise that if we truly love someone then we seek to allow them to do the things that are best for them and allow them to grow spiritually. A lot of the time we often hear things such as “I love you and I want to be with you”, where love gets confused with neediness. When we mix up the feelings of wanting to be with someone with love, that kind of love is a selfish love because it does not seek to give to the other but only looks to fill a need within ourselves. Much as we think are giving, to enhance the other, we are looking to them to give to us. That kind of love can be suffocating to the other person. When the other person feels that your presence is more because you get something out of the togetherness, and wants a bit of space, your need to be together, to “love” in your mind, can actually be misguided.

Let that be your thought for today. Instead of seeking to receive, seek to give in a way that is truly giving to the recipient, in a way that is not selfish, nor controlling, nor suffocating – that is love.