I’ve made the case for keeping a positive attitude. “Where the mind goes, Qi follows. It doesn’t benefit us to look pessimistically into the future and expect the worst. Those who harbor old wounds may think they’re protecting themselves from further devastation by preparing for it. If only it worked. When bad things happen, we can’t help but feel the sting, no matter if we saw it coming or no.
However, what I want to discuss in this post is the other side of the coin, the one that makes us feel like we’ve got to be calm and relaxed and happy all the time.
The best analogy I’ve heard for this was over twenty years ago from The Art of Living’s Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Paraphrasing what I remember, he said, “Life is a river in which one bank is pure pleasure and one bank is pure pain. We know that those that lose themselves on the side of pain and anguish are stuck, but so too are those that dock their boats on the other shore. We want to be in bliss, and being in bliss for a time is wonderful, but stopping is stopping. Life’s goal is to navigate the river, sometimes resting on this bank and sometimes resting on the other, but always moving forward.”
This had a profound effect on the young person I was, a Polyana, always needing to highlight the silver lining to every dark cloud, despite all the obvious pain.
One of the first things that struck me as I began to practice this medicine was all the apologizing. “I’m so sorry that I’m not feeling well.” “Forgive me for being a little grumpy.” After telling me their symptoms, I’ve had patients say, “I’m sorry to burden you with that.” I can’t seem to say this enough, “If you can’t tell your doctor that you’re not feeling great, exactly who can you tell?”
Perhaps the most heartbreaking example I’ve experienced was a few years back. A young woman came to treat her back pain. Her mother had died a year prior, and she was in obvious mourning. “She wasn’t just my mother, but my best friend. We did everything together, went everywhere together, and I don’t know how to live without her.” Then she stopped herself and said, “But it’s been a year. I should be over this.”
Why? I’m not a grievance, but my own life observations have shown me that five years is a more realistic time frame for a loss such as this.
Going back to the analogy of the river, there are times when banking our little boats on the shores of despair is necessary. Long stays may thin the skin and make the misery more absorbable, but short ones give us a place to purge. Silt and sand belong on the shore. In the river, it condenses and creates boulders which make the water more difficult to navigate.
Anger, when applied correctly, is cleansing.
This also holds true for smaller transitions. Each new beginning means the end of a previous chapter. It’s okay to mourn the loss while you celebrate the new adventure. No boat sails a straight course on this river.