Dear Why Team member,
Why Welcome the Gifts that Awaken? Well, I always encourage you to be more for yourself and for others, and I hope my life experiences will shorten your learning curve.
Do you remember the last time you received an unexpected gift?
Was it a pleasant one or did it take you a minute to realize it was a gift and not a “bag of coal”?
My recent traveling again to speak triggered a memory from about 5 years ago that back then, in the moment, looked like a bag of coal until my intellect kicked in to see the gift.
I had a late flight into Miami for a speech I was to give the next morning; upon arriving in my hotel room, using the alarm app on my phone, I selected a specific time to awake the next morning. Life, however, as often happens, has different plans for us than the ones we make. Apparently, the previous night’s guest in my hotel room had set the hotel room alarm clock for an hour earlier than when I wanted to awake; I was awakened from my deep slumber earlier than expected, and also, I might add, from a great dream. As you may know from other blogs, I value my sleep so I felt I was just handed a bag of coals; it was hard for me to see the gift at that early hour.
As I struggled in the dark to unplug the alarm from the wall, both disappointed and frustrated, Epictetus’ teachings and Stoic philosophy came to mind; the coal was actually an absolute gift arising from the depths of my psyche.
Stoicism teaches us not to resist reality; it teaches us not to resist "what is."
I immediately recognized the futility of my struggle, not with the plug in the wall, but rather with the reality of the sounding alarm. I knew well in that moment that I had a choice, not the choice I wanted of course, which was to still be peacefully asleep, but rather a choice to deny or to accept what had happened, to reject or to welcome the circumstance. I knew it was fully in my power to decide how I wanted to respond to my given circumstance. How may I take this initial perceived negative and turn it into a positive? Could the alarm be viewed as a gift to mindfully practice and strengthen my ability to choose my attitude? In full disclosure, this is most likely not how I would have handled the situation 15 years prior.
Seen with this perspective couldn't most negative circumstances be turned to a positive via acceptance and the further developing of our mindfulness?
In a moment I was reminded that I, alone, ultimately decide my response to my circumstance. Admiral Stockdale, who called Epictetus his Patron Saint, and Victor Frankl, came to mind; prisoners of physical negative circumstances, but not mentally. Consider metaphorically how those of us who resist reality are in a battle of our own making often ending up imprisoned by our own thoughts. Resisting reality is futile and no doubt a primary source of human suffering. The moment we accept what is, we also become empowered to improve upon what will be. We waste so much valuable energy in resistance. That hotel alarm, both literally and figuratively, woke me up. My negative feeling quickly shifted to a feeling of gratitude for the awakened insight.
Just the night before I was struggling with my personal past, how some things had unfolded in my life, feeling imprisoned with thoughts of shoulda, coulda, and woulda. Yet the unexpected alarm served to awaken me to a higher truth; my own judgements over what should have happened and what could have happened was the primary source of my suffering, and that such thinking obscured the lessons laid out for me through their experience.
If we could but see life as a school that provides us countless opportunities to learn about ourselves, opportunities to observe our habits of thought, opportunities to observe our often less than productive reactions to circumstances, and how through observation we can improve on our responses, no doubt life's challenges could be seen as more beneficial, more accepted, and more appreciated.
Victor Frankl, author of "Man's Search for Meaning," beautifully said that between stimulus and response there is a space, in that space we have the power to choose our response, and in our response we find our growth and freedom. It is our minds that most imprison us, keeping us from reaping life's possibilities.
When that alarm sounded in my hotel room, I was given a stimulus, my immediate response was to be frustrated with myself for not checking the hotel alarm the night before, to choose disappointment, rather than leverage the circumstance to awaken me to my own power of choice; my power to choose my attitude no matter the given stimulus. Notice how much more we suffer when we resist the lessons that life offers us.
When difficult moments visit you, notice your response and ask, "Why?" - Why did I react the way I did?
It is not the circumstance, but rather how we choose to think about our circumstance that determines our experience; a choice that will have profound influence on our effectiveness going forward.
When life sounds its unexpected alarms, may you welcome the experience as a gift, a gift to learn more about yourself, a gift to further develop your inner strength to choose your own attitude; and thus ultimately a gift to you and those you seek to serve.
Make it a great week,