Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Top 3 Things I Learned in 2011

Okay, I'll be honest. 2011 sucked for me.  Big time.  As I said when I called it my Year in the Burn Unit, it was spent careening from one unpleasant experience to another.  However, as I try to make sense of it, three lessons emerge.

Lesson Number One:  Breathing is Important
As the year wore on, I found myself literally and figuratively holding my breath, waiting for the next bad thing to happen. This was not a good thing.  For one, breathing is fairly essential to life.  The brain needs oxygen to survive.  Without it, one's thinking gets a bit screwy.  But more than that, when you hold your breath figuratively, you fail to live in the present moment. You are either dwelling in the past or attempting to live in the future.  In any event, you aren't fully present in the present. And the only place you can actually live in is the now. So in this year, I am focused on trying to remember to keep breathing, no matter what happens.

Lesson Number Two:  One Moment at a Time
This is definitely related to Lesson Number One.  When things were really tough I realized that if I just took things one minute at a time, I could get through it.  Sometimes I literally had to say to myself, "You are okay right now.  You are okay right now.  You are okay right now" to manage.  I learned that no matter what is happening, as long as I am still alive, I am okay in this precise exact moment.  Now there may be an individual moment sometime in my future when I won't be okay, but so far I haven't found it.  So even when I am feeling panicky or fearful or despairing, as long as I take a step inward and remember that I am okay at this minute minute, I really am okay.

Lesson Number Three:  I Can Control My Reaction
I suffered under the illusion that I could control things for many years.  This past year, I realized that I can't control squat.  Maybe even less than squat.  The only thing I can control is my reaction to what is happening.  And along with that, I finally figured out that I do have control over my reactions. They don't just happen without me. In fact, events themselves don't have any inherent goodness or badness attached to them (most of the time.  Genocide, murder, etc are a different category.)  For instance, if I spill coffee on my blouse in the morning, is that a bad thing? Only if I think it is so and allow it to ruin my day. It can be anything from a minor blip to a big honking's all in how I look at it and how I react to it. So after last year, I'm trying to be in control of my reactions and not let them control me.

Interestingly, in researching Facing Adversity with Grace, these lessons are some that I realized the saints applied to their own lives.  Saints aren't all that different from you and me in what happens to them.  The differences come because they have learned to live in the present (while considering, but not worrying about the future or trying to relive the past) and in controlling their reactions.  In the midst of everything that happens to them, they are able to make their reaction one of thanks IN and not FOR.

Which probably should be Lesson Number Four:  Remember to be Thankful IN all things. Maybe that's the most important lesson of all!

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