My brother-in-law is a police officer. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with him, understanding the perspective of a man who wakes up and goes to work at a job that actually might claim his life. A job where he is trained to look for the threat in every situation … to not be fooled by the perceived good. He told me once that he can notice his heart rate rising the moment he gets in his car and heads to work in the morning — his body preparing for the unknown threats of the day.
Most of us don’t have jobs that can actually kill us, but it sure feels like it some days. The truth is, our jobs might better be compared to that of a fireman, running to situation after situation putting out the myriad of fires that sprout up throughout our days in the form of mini (and not-so-mini) crises. Our alarm doesn’t go off, our kids are running late for school, there’s traffic on the way to the office, a co-worker calls in sick on the day of a big presentation, the PowerPoint clicker won’t work, our office on the East Coast is snowed in, a big shipment fails to arrive … we put out fires.
With these fires comes a surge of adrenaline, a call to action, and the sensation of purpose and duty. We feel important as we’re called to solve what others can’t, or won’t. We experience a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. Our peers recognize us, appreciate our efforts, and applaud our results. When we go home at night and are asked about our day, it’s these fires and our extinguishing of them that we discuss. It was a long, hard day, lots of things went wrong, and we worked diligently to fix them — all the ingredients of a “good” day’s work.
In the course of running from fire to fire, many other things occur as well — we just don’t notice them. Busy rushing around solving and fixing, we overlook so many other events and experiences that take place throughout our day. Meetings that go better than expected, calls where solutions are arrived at with ease, a good meal, hugs from our children, smiles from strangers, steps we take without falling, thousands of breaths, waking up in the morning. All of life’s little victories that we fail to celebrate while attentively surveying the horizon for a fire to put out.
When we fail to give equal weight to experiences we deem easy, good, or successful and focus only on those we deem tough, bad, or failures, we create a subconscious tendency toward the negative because we don’t allow ourselves enough payoff for the good. By focusing only on the fires, all of our self-worth comes from the experience of overcoming hurdles and not enough from the moments in which we achieve the same results with relative ease. Not surprisingly then, we find ourselves in a constant stream of hurdles, challenges, and dramas.
To appreciate this concept, take a moment and look at the examples of small successes listed above. Now imagine how you might react if the opposite happened: a difficult meeting, a call that went poorly, a horrible meal, yelling children, “the finger” from a stranger, a slip-and-fall, the inability to breathe, not waking up in the morning. All of these experiences would be sources of varying degrees of drama in our lives. They would get serious attention from us. And yet when the opposite occurs, when something positive happens, we hardly notice because we’re too busy looking for a crisis. So we find more crises and wonder why our lives are so challenging. Meanwhile the little victories are playing out all around us, just beyond our sight line.
This is where the practice of meditation comes in. By training ourselves to disconnect from the drama as we sit and breathe, we become aware of the truth beyond our daily story and we open a window to see more of life as well. What we practice on the meditation cushion transfers into our daily lives and we begin to see the good around us through the fires as we practice letting go of our tendency towards the negative. As Guru Singh asked me once, “Are you ready to see the good … and live your life in such a way that no one ever feels sorry for you again?”
This week I invite you to open your eyes — and your heart — to go beyond the ups and downs of the crisis-driven life. Make time to breathe, to see all the good around you, and to celebrate it with the same emphasis you place on the hurdles. Pause as you go through your day and notice the subtle beauty in a stranger’s smile, a good meal, or an effortless meeting. Teach yourself to appreciate these gifts by giving them your attention, gratitude, and grace.
Big hugs of love,