Last week, I wrote of patience and the seasons we find ourselves in. This week, I’ll continue that thread by exploring some of the side effects of impatience and the feelings it can foster.
Do you ever have “bad” days? Of course you do, we all do. I had one the other day. There was nothing specific, I just struggled. Struggled to get motivated. Struggled to feel upbeat. From my drive to the office, to any obstacle in my day, I saw the downside of every situation. In parallel, I felt it acutely.
Why? Who knows? Sometimes we call it waking up on the wrong side of the bed. Perhaps it was that stain on the shirt I wanted to wear or my dog tracking mud into the house or having a restless night and waking up a little tired. Maybe its the “mean reds,” Holly Golightly’s characterization of “suddenly being afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” Perhaps you know something is coming or see a risk and feel the “fear” which can accompany such possibilities.
Maybe I just believed there was nothing specific for my “bad day.” We carry all sorts of things that manifest themselves in really annoying ways. The result tends to be the same: feeling “down” and blah about this moment and generally discouraged about prospects for the moments to follow.
Holidays are notorious for fostering such moments. The rush of the season. The pressure of events, gifts, and expectations layered onto the entire month of December. The self-reflection of another 12 month turn and what we did or didn’t do with the time given to us. The imposing sense of time and passing that occurs as we move toward the changing of the year. The season may also mark real loss; ready or not, illness and death still shadow our steps. Some of us are walking there now.
Though there is real loss happening, much of the “blues” we tend to feel come from less specific places. The “brain cloud” of a bad day tends to appear like that arbitrary storm on the horizon, imposing and uninvited. Regardless of the source of our blues, it is no place to stay. When we are there, momentum stops, the magnetism of optimism disappears, and our formerly attractive personality can turn into a repellant. Repelling all good that might normally be drawn to us.
Feelings, Perception, and Reality
Curiously, the feelings in those moments are very real but, often, our perception is an imposter. The world around us doesn’t suddenly turn into a conspiracy to get in our way, slow us down, or crush our soul. We see all of that through the lens of attitude fed by our feelings. That is not to say that negative things aren’t really happening – they may be. However, the way we see and react to them is a direct reflection of our mood and that can often cloud reality in its own way.
What to do? The first thing to remember is that, though we feel like we’re reacting to external factors, the cloud is really about us. We’ve turned-in on ourselves and gotten stuck in our own reflection. You know, kind of like seeing yourself in a dressing room mirror with bad lighting, thinking: when did this place install funhouse mirrors? Every blemish is magnified, every bump protruding, every imperfection highlighted. The self-talk begins and we spin ourselves into a ditch. I’m this or that – I’m not or I never. When the absolutes come forth, we’re rarely seeing reality as it really is.
The other side of this is a reflection of how we want things to be. Our preferences may be reasonable or unreasonable, but, either way, the result of them not being met is disappointment and the dark feelings that follow. This isn’t what I expected. This isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t fair. In particular, the more painful realities of life and suffering bump up against our own desires in the most aggressive ways. At its heart, our deepest sadness reflects our deepest disappointment. I want it to be some other way: my way.
The second thing to remember is that it is rarely as bad as it seems. When the feelings set-in, we go to the extremes. Extreme perceptions and extreme reactions. Like rear tires spinning in the mud, we get stuck in the muck of our own echo chamber parroting every conceivable failure, fault, and foible of our person. If you have any doubt about the state of your situation, pause for a moment and count the consecutive number of negative thoughts pouring through your head. Five, ten, fifteen…rationality demands a reality check. Is it really that bad? Such is the nature of dark feelings, they feel pretty bad. Once you can see them as extreme lies, at least logically, you can begin to use reason to pick them apart. The more pervasive and extreme, the more likely they are not a fair reflection of reality.
For those who are in a moment that is as bad as it seems (or perhaps worse than it seems), the only answer is to just keep walking. Yours is a path of survival, one moment, one step, at a time. There is no going around, you will have to go through. There are losses that break us but there is always hope. There are always choices. Always.
The third thing to remind yourself is that all is passing. Life and all of the feelings that it brings is moving along. You’ve had them before, they will go away, and you will run into them again. The moments feel like forever. The moods seem to “always” appear and “never” get better. But you know they do. No matter how twisted that timeline gets in your head, the moment will pass. Your feelings always change. Part of their deception is the creeping of time and the suffering of such a mood feels like forever. And, like the joys you once appreciated, it appears as a momentary blip in your rear view mirror
Ironically, we all know this. We know how it works. We’ve been there and done that. But for some reason, every single time is like the first time. We get lost in it.
Knowing we have turned-in upon ourself, knowing it isn’t as bad as it seems, and knowing that it is passing, how can we shift our gears and pull ourselves out? Take an inventory.
Actually, take three inventories. First, count your blessings. No, don’t just count them, list them. Write them down. Every one that you can possibly think of. Look externally first.
Thinking of them is good but physically writing them out is a cathartic purge. Start with the basics: air to breath, a heartbeat, your basic senses. Then move to the next level: food, shelter, running water. Then people: family, friends, teachers, doctors, inspiring speakers, saints, historical figures, human beings. Then think about having a job, an income, something to do, an opportunity. Hobbies, trees, salt air, mountains, exercise, faith, and on and on. Once you get going, the list will grow fast, distract you, require your brain, and force a different perspective. Gratitude for the gifts of your life is a powerful salve.
Then, take a personal inventory. This time, turn inward with the gratitude mindset you just engaged for your external blessings. What are your personal gifts and strengths? Again, start with the basics: walking, talking, thinking. Move on from there. What do you know? What can you do physically? Are you creative or artsy? Can you write or code? Can you teach or heal? What have been your successes? Why do others like you? Are you kind and generous? Do you volunteer? Do you care for children or aging parents? What sacrifices have you made? What do you consider your greatest accomplishments? Can you cook or build or repair? Can you plan or lead or coordinate or inspire? Write it all down.
Feeling better yet? The final list to write comprises your hopes, dreams, and plans. What do you see in front of you? Places you want to go? Things you want to do? New milestones in a life that has already been graced in so many ways. Look forward. What might you do? Learn a language? Build a treehouse? Visit Rome? Start a company? Read a book or a hundred books? Solve a big problem? Solve a bunch of smaller problems? Make a pilgrimage? Maybe your dream is to just keep showing up for all those people on the blessings inventory you just created. Big or small, the future you see for your life holds promise. The promise of possibility and the promise of purpose.
This Passing Season
Impatience is about what we want, how we want it, and when we want it. Our food. The service we experience. How we are treated. Our successes. Our failures. Recognition. Even the suffering that is foisted upon us. We all want life to happen according to our desires and our darkest moments come when those expectations are not met. We get impatient. Why this? Why not that? She didn’t treat me properly. He didn’t see my potential. Life is not fair.
We know it is all passing and that only fuels our impatience. We think: time is running out, it’s now or never. Impatience is not trusting that it is going to be ok. Impatience is losing faith: in yourself, in those around you, in the God in whom you believe. Impatience is feeling like the best is behind you.
This too shall pass. Whether it’s the “blues” or the “mean reds,” we must remember that this season is passing and our call is to find the promise and possibility in the place we are and muster the patience for what might be.
Maybe one of your best – we all go through this and multiple times a month. Good insight and prospective.