Ever find yourself running in circles in your mind about some difficult thing that happened (or may happen)?
There’s a script that can get going, replaying past situations, or future potentialities, over and over. It seems like our brains are wired this way, trying to figure out what we (or they) should have done differently (or might need to do differently) to avoid or overcome a difficult situation.
“If I would have just… then I could have avoided that disaster, and everything would have turned out great,” you tell yourself.
Missing The Present
Meanwhile, as you’re going round and round in your mind about all the things you (or they) should have done or known, time keeps ticking by. You miss out on each new moment, while being stuck in a loop of blame and shame.
It’s exhausting and rather time consuming. You’re not absorbing the lesson for the purpose of growth, you’re just fretting. Yet, it seems to be in our DNA—a default of sorts. Perhaps it’s something left over from evolution, or perhaps it came through the habits formed from many generations that came before us.
Whether you like it or not, life generously presents abundant opportunities to learn. Often those learning opportunities come through some pretty strong emotions, including irritation, anger, grief, and even rage.
A lesson In A Bathtub
A few months back, I had some bodywork done. After the session, the therapist suggested I take a hot bath, and put Epsom salt into it (to soak out toxins).
I don’t know if this actually works, but I’ll try just about anything if it might help.
(I even started walking barefoot outside for twenty minutes every day. I heard the “grounding” effect helps reduce anxiety.)
So, skeptical but optimistic, I took a bath, with Epsom salt, to soak out the toxins.
A Bathtime Visitor
My cat, Everest, jumped on the edge of the tub to see what was going on. As she turned to face away from me, her tail dropped in the water.
(Most cats don’t care much for water, as you may already know.)
Everest is a longhaired cat, with long, sharp, nails, who has proven allergic to baths of any sort! I wasn’t about to rescue her tail and risk the puncture wounds from those claws.
Instead, I started talking to her.
“Everest. Your tail… it’s in the water… it’s getting wet.”
She sat there, ignoring me.
“I did not put your tail in this water,” I repeated, just in case she later thought it was me. Meanwhile, her tail sunk deeper.
At one point, I thought, she’s got to feel the heat of this water, and wondered if the toxins were being absorbed from her too.
How Everest Dealt With Her Difficulty
A couple of moments later, she leaped off the tub.
Her tail flipped the water straight up, landing several drops right on her head. Instantly, she crouched low, belly to the floor, front paws stretched out, her head searching right and then left, looking for the enemy that did this awful thing to her.
Then, she saw her tail, mistook it for an alien attacker, and started chasing it.
Round and round she went.
Less than a minute later, she tuckered herself out and stopped chasing. But that didn’t stop the motion of her eyes or her head. They kept right on spinning. It was hysterical!
Then, she noticed her tail again. It was clearly still an alien (not her own tail), so she switched directions and started spinning in circles the other way. Chasing after her tail again, round and round she went.
I reminded her, “I did not do this to you… you put your own tail in that water.”
Getting Nowhere, Running Round And Round
Finally, exasperated, she flopped over onto her side.
After a few seconds went by she looked at her tail, recognized it as her tail and started grooming it.
Learning a new way for dealing with life’s difficulties… From a Cat
Then, I had a realization.
How many times have I accidently put my tail in the water, not realizing that’s what I was doing?
How many times have I thought someone else was causing the results I was getting?
How many times have I spun in circles, trying to figure out who or what did this to me?
Of course, we’d all like to think, I wouldn’t put my own tail in the water.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to think it must have been someone else that caused our discomfort.
I certainly know I’ve done that. And it’s pretty certain I’ll do it again. Not because I want to, but because I have, tucked away inside my brain, habits of thought formed by generations of people before me.
Since I’m likely to have these kinds of experiences again, how awesome would it be if I could get to the point of acceptance as quickly as Everest did?
A New Way Of Overcoming Difficulty
When I’m paying attention and in the moment (rather than running round and round in my own mind), I realize that I play a rather large part in the way I experience life. Sometimes consciously, and often unknowingly, I play a large part in what’s happening around me.
I am working to accept that there is very little for which I actually have control. Life happens the way it does, whether I like it or not. I can waste time and energy trying to gain some sense of control, or I can surrender to the experience and learn to trust in it.
Learning to trust in life is about shifting my perception, or my attitude, about what’s happening.
To open up to each experience with a curious and open heart, regardless of the perceived “good” or “bad” of it, is my greatest aim and prayer in life. To be fully alive while living… that would be the greatest gift.
I’m not there yet, and maybe I’ll never be, but I pray for more moments of unrelenting trust and acceptance of whatever life presents.
I do have choices with respect to my perception and response, though I don’t always recognize that I have them.
And somehow that’s also perfect… a part of a greater plan, for which acceptance and trust are my greatest allies.
Are We Aware Enough to Get The Lesson And Move On?
Rather than spending a month (or even decades) spinning in circles, exhausting and dizzying yourself while trying to figure out who did this to you, could you learn to pause, accept the lesson, and move on?
This is much easier said than done.
If your habitual pattern of thought is to dissect difficulty, stew on it, figure out who is to blame, and get them to take responsibility, then simply moving on can be a challenge.
If you feel a need (whether through evolution or habit), to apologize a million times for your mistake(s), then a simple process of apologizing once, sincerely and thoroughly, then learning the lesson and moving on, is foreign and uncomfortable.
Thankfully, it does get easier with practice.
How To Rebound From Difficulty, And Move On More Quickly
There is a less exhausting, more fulfilling, way to approach life’s blessings (those pesky blessings which often come packaged as difficult lessons).
Animals are often great teachers, and here’s the process I learned from Everest and my time in the tub. When faced with a difficult situation:
- Analyze (and even over-analyze, but ideally, for shorter and shorter periods of time).
- Accept reality.
- Get the lesson as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.
- Move on.
When was the last time you found yourself stewing over a situation that didn’t go the way you thought it should? How did you overcome that difficulty?
Do you have a process or system like what I learned from Everest?
And how do you retain your serenity when life throws you a curve ball?
I’d love to hear your stories and processes. Please leave me a comment, or email me directly at Misti at Misti Burmeister.com.
Here’s to your greatness,