Have you ever noticed how many choices we make everyday? Most of us are incredibly fortunate to live in a world full of choices. We choose everything from what to eat for breakfast each morning or what clothes we want to wear each day, to what we want to do when we grow up or who we want to marry. On the flip side, we cannot always choose our circumstances. Whether we are faced with great tragedy or the more mundane happenstances of our daily lives, we often feel like we are the unfortunate victims of life’s unfairness.
An important lesson that I often remind myself, especially when my children complain that something is just not fair, is the unwavering truth that life is not always fair. I would love to look into their innocent little eyes and tell them that whatever wrong they have felt will somehow magically be made right. As we all know, this is simply not true and is a lesson that would not serve them well in coping with life’s ups and downs. I always feel like the bearer of bad news, the one who must deflate that balloon of childhood optimism, when I tell my children that life is not always fair. Once they accept this to be true, however, things may get a little easier.
It is so important for us to recognize that when life’s unexpected, less than desirable situations come our way, we have a choice. We can recognize that we may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control how we choose to react to them. Our choice is to either look at those bumps in the road as devastating blows that underscore the unfairness of life OR view them as unique opportunities to choose how we want to see the world.
I am not suggesting that we can avoid the pain (physically or emotionally) that may accompany our bumps in the road (or mountains as the case may be). What I am suggesting is that we must be very careful not to add to that pain by struggling against what is. Sylvia Boorstein explains this concept beautifully in her book, It’s Easier Than you Think, in which she explains the Buddhist notion that suffering comes from clinging. She writes, “ [S]uffering is what happens when we struggle with whatever our life experience is rather than accepting and opening to our experience with a wise and compassionate response.”
How often do we say to ourselves or do we hear someone else say, “that’s just my luck” or “my life is just one disappointment after another” or “no one ever listens to me” or “that’s just not fair” or some other similar complaint? If we convince ourselves that this is our tragic reality, then it becomes our reality through our own ever-narrowing perspective. This conditioned response can make us feel powerless. We begin to identify ourselves as the repeated victim of life’s unfairness, but we don’t have to. We have a choice. There is tremendous freedom in realizing that we do not have to react as we have become so accustomed to reacting. We can take a step back and try a new perspective on for size. Once we recognize that we may not be able to change the situation, we can choose to accept with grace and wisdom what we cannot change and react in a way that will make our lives easier and more joyful.
One very personal example of an incredibly challenging situation in my life is my mother’s recent illness. The circumstances are what they are. Life is not always fair. So, I am faced with a choice. I can look at her illness and it’s effect on all of us with regret, anger and resentment OR I can choose to take what is, what I cannot change, and look at the opportunities that I have been given. I choose to let my troubles be my teachers. As a result, I have learned so much. I have learned to appreciate the incredible gift of good health, the importance of cherishing each moment that I have with those who are special to me, the value in really listening to others, and the joy in simply being fully present for those I love so dearly.
When some days are filled with great challenges and sadness, I choose to focus on those little moments that I have learned to appreciate so much, in which I have found such joy even in the face of very trying circumstances. I have never enjoyed having a quiet breakfast with my mother more than over the past few months, something we rarely get to do, even if we share those meals in a hospital room. I have never felt the importance of holding her hand more, as she so often held mine when I needed it. I have never fully appreciated the power of being able to breathe fully and deeply more than when I watch someone struggling to do just that. I have never appreciated the sound of my parents’ voices more than when I make that first phone call each morning to find out how they are and am delighted to hear a cheerful, happy voice on the other end of the line wishing me a good morning. All is right in the world when I hear happiness, optimism and the start of a good day on the other end of the phone.
Would I trade all of these lessons to make her illness go away? Absolutely! But I do not have that choice. I still feel the pain of the situation – the sadness. However, I try not to add suffering on to that pain by clinging to what I cannot change. I also feel the incredible power of love, hope and optimism, the feeling that anything is possible. I choose this perspective – it is the space in which I want to live and hope to share with those around me. It is a work in progress and a challenging journey, but that’s what life is all about.
So, think for a moment, as you take a deep breath, and consider how you want to act and react to your life’s circumstances – the big and the small situations that you find yourself in everyday. Embrace the incredible freedom we all have to choose how we want to see the world. I choose to see my glass as overflowing. How full is your glass?