By Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, massage therapist, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing
Two stories have been on my mind in the last few days.
The first is a Chinese folktale I recently told to my kids at bedtime: A farmer relies on his horse for his living. The horse runs away, and the farmer’s neighbors all come to console him. “Bad luck!” they cry, and “So sorry!”
“We’ll see,” says the farmer.
A few weeks later the horse returns with a second horse, a beautiful nomad stallion.
The neighbors come again, saying “Good luck! Congratulations!”
“We’ll see,” says the farmer.
The farmer’s son loves to ride the new stallion, but one day he is thrown from the saddle and breaks his hip. “Bad luck! So sorry,” cry the townspeople.
“We’ll see,” says the farmer. “How do you know this isn’t a blessing?”
A few months later soldiers come to the farmer’s village, enlisting every able-bodied man to fight the invading nomad hordes. The story goes that nine of every 10 soldiers are killed in the conflict. The farmer being old and his son being lame, both remained behind to care for each other and their families, so their lives were spared.
How quickly we judge the events in our lives. We are culturally trained to look at life through a lens of preconceived notions. “A” is good or desirable. “B” is bad or undesirable. In my work, I’m increasingly called to not think of situations as “good” or “bad.” This allows me to suspend my preconceptions and inquire more honestly into a situation as it actually is.
The second story on my mind is from my own life. Yesterday I went to drop off my 5 year-old at her dance class. The class, the setting, and the teacher were familiar to both of us from several years of attendance. My plan was to quickly make the drop-off and head to an important meeting where, I imagined, my timely presence was desperately needed. Alas, it was not to be.
We found the classroom, saw the smiling, welcoming, familiar teacher who I know my daughter loves, and exchanged a sweet goodbye. I turned to go, but found my daughter clinging to my leg. Was she shy of the new students? Who can fathom the workings of the five year-old heart? I tried “patiently” for several minutes to convince her to join the group. Even the teacher joined in ― all in vain.
Finally, I decided to sit down with my daughter by the door. She watched the class from my lap, processing. Soon she joined in, casting a nervous glance my way every few seconds.
“I’m going to go,” I mouthed, catching her eye and pointing to the door.
“Not yet,” she mouthed back, shaking her head. Dancing over to me, she leaned in and whispered: “Just another little bit, OK? I’ll be more comfortable. I’ll tell you when you can go.”
So I sat down and waited, chagrined, delighted, impatient, and relieved. Inside of a minute I got the nod that I could go, but by then I’d relaxed enough to realize my meeting wasn’t all that important. I watched for another minute, waved, and went out into the crisp fall day.
When you find your expectations are not matching what is happening in your life, set aside a minute or two to try this:
- Consider the uncomfortable, or less-than-perfect circumstance, that is bothering you.
- Notice whether and how you are pulled to adjust, fix, rationalize or resolve the problem.
- Then, if necessary, pause, take 10 complete breaths, and just sit with the situation.
- Consider how this changes your perspective on the situation and helps to clarify what you intend to do.
When we get stressed or lose perspective, it’s easy to feel like the walls are crumbling around us. Pausing for a minute and simply sitting with what’s going on helps remind us that we are bigger than the problem. Then, creativity and curiosity can take root, and we can start to have a bit of fun.
Chandler Yorkhall, BA, NCTMB, AOBTA, is a massage therapist with the Penny George Institute. He works with hospitalized patients.