Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lesson 21- 3 Secrets to Overcoming Obstacles


“First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” Donovan

When my granddaughter (whose name is Trouble) was four, I watched her throw a 7 minute tantrum because I told her it was not snack time. I watched as she threw herself onto the floor in protest. Continued watching as she wailed and jerked and twisted her body about- hoping for some kind of reaction. I grew sad (and tired) as she started sobbing in frustration. I said nothing. I just sat down in the same room and waited until she finished. Then I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”

 I mustered every serious bone I had to convince her that I wanted the same thing she did.  “I wonder if there’s another way to say that,” I said slowly. “One that doesn’t make you so tired. Maybe- something like, ‘Nana, I really want a snack. Can we talk about it?’” 

I was winging it. I had no idea what I was doing, except trying to make it quiet. And it worked. That time.

But there will always be mountains.

This year, mountains have come in waves for my husband. After his motorcycle accident and surgery, he spent months staying off his feet. Then, months learning to walk again. Physical therapy and exercise became his mountains. As did days of exhaustion and pain. These were just the physical hurdles. The mental ones were just as steep.

What are we to do? We pray. We practice kindness. We live a life of cooperation and compassion. And, wham. The car overheats. The project that should have taken an hour to finish sits on your desk for a week. Your four-year-old guest throws a tantrum that defines the mood of the entire house. A man who has ridden a motorcycle since grade school is swept off the road and hurled into uncertainty. The peaceful order you work so hard to create vanishes faster than a twenty dollar bill. How do you make it stop?

You can’t.

But here are some secrets to making obstacles work for you:

Secret #1- Mountains teach.

How unfair that the only constant in life is change. If only we could see it coming. Or see it as opportunity. Though we can’t eliminate mountains from our lives, we can change how we react to them.

Mountains stop us from going where we may not be ready to go. They force us to use our entire skill set- and then some- to climb them. But they are only insurmountable with our permission.

We tell Trouble that she is always in control. Even when things are not going well, she can turn things around. To take something negative and make it positive is sometimes all it takes.

We must get inside every uncomfortable experience and stay until we figure out what makes it uncomfortable. To transcend a mountain, we must understand how it became a mountain in the first place.

Secret #2- The worst kinds of mountains are the ones we create.

Often these mountains come in the form of grudges and hurts. Letting go of hurt is sometimes moving mountains.

If something doesn’t have to be an obstacle, ask yourself why it is.

When Trouble was a toddler, you could keep her from hurting herself by turning her about 15 degrees.  If she didn’t see the kitty, she wouldn’t pull its tail. Now it is harder. As her view expands, so does her desire to stray. But life is transformation.


Secret #3- It’s all about the view (wherever you are).


The view from a mountain top is both celebration and perspective. Standing on top is nice. But you know you have to come down. Part of you (as my husband says) is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Another mountain is just around the corner, if you let it become that. Sometimes the desire to climb is enough. Baby steps are still transformative.  For my husband, things he once took for granted are coming back slowly. But he is a different person now. His view of life has changed. Slowing down has helped him appreciate it.

I recently picked up Trouble from school. She chatted a minute, then got very quiet. I heard the sound of her lunch bag zipper and an ‘Oops’.  Preparing for the worst, I meditated on my mountain climbing mantra- ‘Not a big deal. Not a big deal.’

“Trouble,” I asked cautiously, “why does my car smell like donuts?” 

“Oh,” she answered brightly, “It’s because I just spilled sugar all over it. It smells Great, right?”  

How good are you at climbing ‘mountains’ in your daily life? Care to share your techniques?


Friday, June 7, 2013

Lesson 20- SURPRISE!

How being afraid can make you a happier person

There are good surprises and bad surprises, but all surprises can teach us something about being ready.

It’s birthday week here and a lot of secret conversations are going on around me. The smallest of us- my granddaughter Valerie Fields (whose name to me is now Trouble) - is planning a birthday party for her mother. Everything must be a surprise, she keeps telling me. The party is at my house and I only know one detail. There will be a piñata.

Here’s the problem.

Half the people on Trouble’s invitation list live out of town. The others have not been told about the party at all. You can’t have a well-attended or well-organized party without sharing some of the details. I am trying to teach this to Trouble without crushing her dreams of surprising her mom.
Everything can’t be a surprise. And you don’t really want it to be.

Not all surprises are created equal.

Some are good:  Surprise! You won the lottery. Or-Surprise! Candy is falling from the piñata.  
Others are not as good: Surprise! There’s no hot water when you take a shower. Or- Surprise! No one came to your party because you forgot to invite them.  

All surprises can teach us something, if we’re willing

Like when Trouble jumps out at me from behind a door or piece of furniture, which she finds so thrilling lately. I am so surprised when this happens that my heart quickens. Sometimes my spine tingles. But every time I am surprised. Yet, nothing is new about this antic. And no matter how many times I tell Trouble this scares me to death, she thinks it funny. For my own safety, I am trying to accept that this is fun for her. This can teach me to relax more around her. Or when I am rounding corners in my house.

We can also learn that water heaters don’t last forever. Keeping track of that could spare us an unpleasant surprise.

Bracing ourselves for surprises teaches us to be both prepared and relaxed.

You train and exercise. But when you injure your ankle, you don’t have to see it as a personal insult. You continue your training after you rest and heal. We keep records on the water heater, but use that cold bath to pretend we are in a pool or lake.

With surprises, we are given a chance to learn humility and gratitude.

We realize that everything in life is not meant to be controlled. We manage the things we can and accept the things we cannot. Sometimes we welcome these things as pleasant surprises.

Being prepared is being open to good surprises, too.

We must not let our problems blind us. We must see joy when it comes in the form of a surprise.
Like when friends show up at your house with a piñata. Or when Trouble jumps out in front of you because it makes her laugh.