Just the other day, while taking a walk, I ran into a big turtle (the size of a basketball) laying on its back. Don’t know how it got there, but it was frantically trying to turn over so it could get out from under the hot sun. Ironically, the hard shell the turtle relies on for protection was killing him/her. It would have died had I not turned him/her over upright. The incident reminded me of an old life lesson; tomorrow is not promised to anyone, we can never do enough to protect ourselves from everything life throws at us.
No Way to Forecast the Future
The turtle species developed its hard shell over eons. This shell provides for shelter and protection from the most likely challenges a turtle can face. Yet, all the fine tuning made from generation to generation could not foresee the force that caused this turtle to end up on its back. The very thing that had been a reliable part of its protection was now the biggest obstacle the turtle would need to overcome if he/she was to escape from the scorching sun to safety. It was a product of divine intervention that I arrived just in time to save the turtle’s life.
This period of quarantine is teaching us a lot about how fragile the daily freedoms we took for granted really are. It is also showing us how the things we put our focus on to protect our future have turned out not to be so useful. For many, hanging on to the old way of life resembles the same attachment the turtle had for the shell. We may have to let go of our old defenses if we are to turn over and land on our feet again.
Destructive defense mechanisms
No one wants to release any of the things they rely on. We root this attachment in our ego’s desire to be safe and comfortable. But we instinctively understand that nothing lasts forever. Relationships end, loved ones die, no situation ever stays the same. But this knowledge does not prevent us from experiencing the pain of loss when change occurs.
How we behave when things do not go according to plan makes all the difference in how successfully we meet our challenges. Here are four things to avoid doing.
1) Obsess to explain. A first instinct after a calamity happens is to try to explain what went wrong. Although this kind of reflection can be a positive learning experience, it goes awry the minute we begin to obsess about what we “should” have done differently to avert the heartbreak. Although the lessons of the past can help us better prepare for the future, the past cannot be re-lived. It must be let go so one can deal with things in the present.
2) Rationalizing. Whenever we are faced with our past actions in a particular situation that may have been inappropriate, ill-informed or destructive, we have a tendency to defend what we did. We waste energy with this need to vindicate our actions. It often causes a person to make shit up to minimize their perceived mistakes. Unless you were deliberately trying to cause the event that occurred, the fact is the actions you took at the moment were nothing more than the best you could do at the time with the information available.
3) Scapegoating. There is seldom one cause that contributed to the transitional moments in our lives. A concoction of seemingly unrelated events that were totally out of our control are often the cause for calamities. The frustration over one’s inability to determine an explanation for what led to the problem can lead to another useless behavior, scapegoating. Whenever I delegate blame to others, I realize I am simply trying to skirt my responsibility to take care of the problem in the present.
4) Expecting the worse. It is tempting to let your imagination run wild on the doom and gloom an unfortunate event can cause, but this is not reality. The fact is that many of the difficult event in our lives helped us evolve into better situations. Focusing on the bad that can happen freezes you from taking action. This will only make things worse. Debbie Downer is one of the most memorable characters that ever came out of Saturday Night Live. Her character has become the symbol for someone who looks for the negative in every situation. You want to be the opposite; you want to look for the good.
Living with the outcomes
It is natural to want to stay informed about our current global and national situation, but it is difficult to keep your wits about you if you don’t limit the amount of information on the topic at hand. If you must watch news as your information source, then keep in mind that you are not in charge of everything, you are not responsible for fixing the government, start up the economy, or coming up with a coronavirus vaccine. You are responsible to do what is in front of you, taking care of your loved ones and the people you come in contact with. Follow the proper protocols required today and be ready to move forward when the time comes. Others are worrying about the economy, elections, and reopening our communities.
No-one can ever be prepared for everything life throws at you. No matter how much we plan, it is a given that we cannot cover all bases. You must embrace the new situation as life. I know this is hard, for loss can make us feel like we are suddenly lost in the middle of a desert. That is not all bad. As the French poet and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said,
“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
Stay calm, love one another, be kind and thoughtful. Work for a greater good. Find the wells.
Remember, paying gratitude for your life forward will reward you with much joy and contentment.
Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash