Several months ago I was struggling to deal with the everyday difficulties of raising my family. I remember feeling discouraged, overwhelmed and frustrated. I decided to give my brother a call to describe my feelings and perhaps get some advice or empathy from him. As I finished telling him how I was feeling he decided to tell me a little about a trip that he had just taken with his wife to New York. While he was there he had the opportunity to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Part of the exhibit included the experience of the singular American that wasn’t on earth during the September 11th attacks. Astronaut Frank Culbertson was in the International Space Station about 250 miles above earth that day. When Culbertson was informed of the attacks he grabbed a camera to record the smoke that he could see from space, coming from New York. As he recorded the images he said these words:
“I just wanted the folks in New York to know that their city still looks very beautiful from space. I know it’s a very difficult day for everybody in America right now and I know folks are struggling very hard to deal with this and recover from it, but the country still looks good.”
My brother felt these words could be used in our own lives as we struggle to gain perspective on the difficulties we may be faced with. So often we forget to have that astronaut perspective to see the bigger picture.
Life is full of learning opportunities
After we got off the phone, it made me think of a game my elementary teacher would have the class play. She would set out 4-5 pictures of everyday objects that were zoomed in on and we needed to guess what it was. For example:
This picture right here is the close up of a key
A fundamental truth in life is that no one escapes times of difficulty. However, we have the choice to see difficulties bigger than they are, or to step back and look at the bigger picture. When we chose the later, the situation hasn’t changed, but we have changed. Another fundamental truth in life is that the only thing we have total control of is our reaction to events, situations and circumstances.
Change the meaning, change your emotions
Stepping back from a situation also gives us the opportunity to change the meaning behind whatever is going on. For example, if I am in the middle of cooking dinner for my family and my toddler keeps interrupting, I could choose to assign the situation the following meaning: My toddler always makes it impossible for me to get things done. Or if I take a minute to step back I could choose to assign a different meaning such as: Wow! My daughter must really love me to want to be around me so much. Maybe this is an opportunity to teach her how to cook or serve by having her help me.
Different meanings behind the same situation can elicit completely polar emotions. In the first example, I would probably be feeling frustrated or upset. My actions would probably reflect those emotions. In the second example I would probably be feeling love, gratitude or empathy which creates a totally different action. Although it can be difficult to remember to look at the bigger picture, the more you do it, the more it becomes a part of your character.
As you work on developing this new skill, take a moment to observe your initial reactions and behavior to things that disturb you. Practicing this technique will lead you to an understanding of what the underlying issue is and let you know what needs to change. When we experience a negative emotion, it is probably more related to us than the episode itself. Let’s take the cooking example from above. If I am feeling frustrated and then take the time to observe this, I may come to realize that I am not actually frustrated with that episode, but I am actually frustrated that I haven’t spent enough time with my child that day and I feel out of balance. Or perhaps with that same example, the frustration is that I haven’t taken the time to spend with myself so I feel burnt out or even resentful that I have to cook dinner without help. When we spend the time searching for the message our emotions are trying to tell us, we can make wonderful improvements. We invite you to practice this in your own life and see how it helps you to cope with the difficulties that come, because the world is beautiful, no matter the situation.
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”