All In the Eye of the Beholder

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the stresses of daily life; little annoyances that pile up until we can’t go a single day without complaint. And the more we focus on what’s wrong, the worse it gets. Over time, we forget to appreciate all that’s good in our lives. We lose our capacity to experience joy in the moment, or recognize the abundance that’s already ours.

Despite my efforts at mindfulness, I still slip into ‘bad attitude’ mode. I must remind myself regularly how wonderful my life is. There’s a particular image I conjur when I catch myself falling back into this old pattern. It’s from a news segment I watched about women in Third World countries whose entire days are spent obtaining water for their families, because the nearest source is several miles away. Each and every day, the same routine…walking to the well in the heat of the sun, filling as many containers as she can carry, and hauling them home. Then cooking and evening chores before catching a few hours sleep and beginning the cycle again.

These women don’t have the luxury of worrying about trivialities. Their family’s survival is on the line. Everything they do serves that purpose.

To these women, one of my bad days must look like Nirvana, and rightly so. Time to put my Big Girl Panties on and stop being a whiner!

This isn’t to say that nothing in our lives warrants sadness, or grief. But, when events in our lives seem pointless and cruel, we can draw meaning from the struggle if we challenge ourselves with just one question: what is this situation trying to teach me?

If we are even the tiniest bit curious about what we could learn from adversity, then even in the depths of suffering, it becomes possible for us to choose abundance, purpose, and hope.

Think of the countless people throughout history who’ve endured unspeakable horrors –  and who didn’t just survive, but did so with such courage and grace their stories can only be called heroic. Someone who comes to mind most often for me is Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor.

We awe and marvel at such people’s tenacity, their ability to maintain optimism in the bleakest circumstance. Yet, in almost every case, these courageous individuals attribute their resilience to one simple thing…finding purpose and meaning in their struggles.

Which brings me to the point of this exercise, of looking at my life through the eyes of those less fortunate than me. It forces me to ask myself, if others have risen above such dire conditions, what do I (a middle-class, caucasian American) really have to complain about?

If we grasped how powerful our minds are, we wouldn’t squander energy on anger, annoyance, resentment, or fear. We’d realize we’re capable of leading extraordinary lives, no matter what befalls us, and that if we want to feel prosperous, joyful, and content, we only need to recognize and believe we already are.

Everything comes down to what we choose to see; our inner attitudes shape our outer realities.

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