Once in a while I get in a funk...don't we all? I fall into the trap of comparing myself with others, regretting past mistakes, wishing I had done things differently or that I was more like someone else I imagine to be far better off. For a day or two, I can't seem to muster the energy to take all of my own advice on positive thinking, gratitude, living in the here and now, blah, blah, blah.
Hey, I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. Yes, I know better and yet sometimes, even knowing better isn't enough to keep my spirits up when things aren't going my way. So, I allow myself a day or two of moping and then I get on with my life. I get back on the positive psychology wagon. I focus on the moment, try to meditate, exercise (of course), engage in activities that foster more positive emotions (like reading or walking outside or a little gardening) and the world seems bright once again.
It's good that I go through this really. It keeps me humble and serves as a reminder that there is a lot of unhappiness in the world and that we are all susceptible. Experiencing it myself now and again helps me to be more compassionate towards others who are feeling low and maybe don't have the knowledge or the skills to pull themselves out of it like I do. I believe that we all need to do what we can in this crazy world to try to stay positive, to improve our lives and to be happy. I also believe that we owe it to our friends, our families and our neighbors to reach out and grab their hands and lift them up as well.
So how do we remind ourselves that we're all valuable in our own way? How do we stop wishing we were something we're not and start appreciating ourselves for who we are? How do we help those around us to do the same? There are many ways:
- We can take a moment to look at what we have done right instead of what we haven't.
- We can focus on our strengths and not our weaknesses.
- We can think about all of the things that we have (or are) everyday for which we are grateful.
- We can make plans to change what we can in the future.
- And we can look to the wisdom af the ages; to stories that help us to remember that we are who we are and that we should honor and appreciate that instead of wishing it away.
Ancient stories can help us to appreciate and love who we are and they also remind us that we are not alone in the struggle to do so. People throughout the ages have been battling the same self-defeating demons that we battle today. And the wise have been trying to show us the way all along as well.
Here is one of my favorite stories about accepting, being and appreciating who you are. It is an ancient Chinese tale that the Taoists have laid claim to, but that may also be claimed by the Buddhists and others. No one is sure of the origin, but no matter. The story is a powerful one. The message of this story can be a powerful boost for you and, when it is shared, in can help those you share it with to feel appreciated and empowered as well. Sharing stories like these is one way of reaching out to those around us with a helping hand. Later this month I'll be sharing it with the children at my Unitarian Universalist Church. Perhaps there is a child (or adult) that you know that would benefit from this story as well.
There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and his position in life. “The life of a stonecutter is so hard and miserable,” he thought. “Working in the sun all day, chipping away at the side of a mountain, what kind of life is this?” One day he passed a wealthy merchant's house and saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How successful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. “I wish I could be like that merchant.”
To his surprise, the stonecutter suddenly became the merchant. He had more luxuries and power than he could have ever dreamed of and, those who had less, envied and detested him. Soon a high official came by, adorned by rich silk and brocade. His clothing was so fine. He had so much power. “The life of an emperor is far better than being a merchant,” thought the stonecutter. “I wish I was a a powerful emperor.” And suddenly, he was.
As the stonecutter walked along in his fine clothing, the people all bowed down to him. They trembled as he passed, clearly fearing him and hating him behind their show of respect. As the sun beat down on his head, the clothes began to feel heavy and uncomfortable. The stonecutter gazed up at the sky and caught sight of the sun. “How strong the sun is,” he thought. “I wish I could be strong like the sun.” And the stonecutter was transformed into a fiery ball; a new sun.
He shone down fiercely on everyone and everything. The farmers looked up, cursing him as he scorched their crops. Then a large, dark cloud passed between the stonecutter and the earth and blocked his light completely. “Amazing,” thought the stonecutter, “that cloud is so large and powerful.” “I wish I could be that cloud.” And so he was. The stonecutter blotted out the sun and poured rain down onto the fields. But he rained so long and so hard that the fields began to flood. The farmers cursed him and shouted at him. Soon, the stonecutter felt himself being moved by some great force and he realized that he was being blown away by the wind. “How great a force, how impressive the wind,” thought the stonecutter. “I wish I could be so forceful.” And the stonecutter was changed once again, into the wind.
The stonecutter blew and blew. Branches broke, shingles flew from the roofs, whole trees were uprooted. The people ran and hid, terrified by the forceful winds that threatened their safety. Then, after a while, the stonecutter's wind came up against something that he couldn't budge. He blew and he blew with all his might, but it simply would not be moved. The stonecutter had blown up against a mountain. Made of soil and stone, the mountain towered over all. “How stable and indestructible that mountain is,” thought the stonecutter. “I wish I could be like a mountain. And he was, tall and majestic.
But as he stood there, thinking about his strength, he heard a chipping and tapping noise. He felt the pounding of a hammer and the tapping of a chisel and he felt himself being broken and changed. “What could possibly be powerful enough to change a mountain?” thought the stonecutter. “What in the world could be stronger than I?” As he looked down he saw, far below him, the figure of a stonecutter.
We are each, in our own way, powerful. We each have a purpose to fulfill and meaning to our lives. Sometimes it may be difficult to see, but that's because our gaze is so often focused outward. We see the greatness and the accomplishments of others so much more clearly than we see our own. It's only when we're able to view ourselves throughout the eyes of another, to take a fresh perspective, that we can see our own greatness and appreciate who we are and what we have to offer. How much happier would we all be if we valued ourselves the way others do? How much more satisfied would we be if we could simply be ourselves instead of trying to be someone else?
Take a moment here and there, to look at yourself from a new perspective, to see yourself for who you truly are and to enjoy the view.