I recently came across this story in The Art of Happiness, inspired by the Dalai Lama:
Once there was a disciple of a Greek philosopher who was commanded by his Master for three years to give money to everyone who insulted him. When this period of trial was over the Master said to him, “Now you can go to Athens and learn Wisdom.” When the disciple was entering Athens, he met a certain wise man who sat at the gate insulting everybody who came and went. He also insulted the disciple, who burst out laughing. “Why do you laugh when I insult you?” said the wise man. “Because,” said the disciple, “for three years I have been paying for this kind of thing and now you give it to me for nothing.” “Enter the city,” said the wise man, “it is all yours…”
During my yoga training last year we did an exercise where we had to write down a story of an injustice done to us. Then we were told to go back and cross out anything that was not a fact. It turned out that the story was pretty thin, and in fact there was no apparent injustice when the perceptions were stripped out. Funny enough, you could replace those details with something funny or positive, and the story would have a different meaning altogether. This just goes to show that sometimes when you feel upset or wronged, the story could just be in your head and not at all reality. Shift your perspective, and view it through a different lens. You’ll find that it’s easier to just let things go.

This got me thinking about our reactions to life – the way we respond when things don’t go our way. I believe that things usually seem worse right in that moment. We are too caught up to be objective; we may have unrealistic expectations; or we try to take too much control of things we shouldn’t. We build stories in our mind, and they can sometimes spiral out of control.

Your thoughts don’t define you. Your behavior does.

But, I realized that it’s our actions that truly speak and carry us forward, and this IS something we can control. So, whenever I feel myself on the verge of tears or getting stressed about a certain situation, I try to take a step back from that moment and assess the situation through a different lens. The following five tips have guided me through those moments:

1. Breathe. We only have a limited number of breaths in this lifetime, so make them count. Take ten breaths, and breathe each one fully and deeply.

2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to understand the path they walked or their story. It will change your own.

3. Write it down. Sometimes putting an idea to paper reveals the truth of your tension. You may realize it’s really not that big of a deal if you can’t make a case for being angry on paper.

4. Surrender. I believe the Universe has big plans, and sometimes they don’t go our way. Trust in the bigger picture, and know there will be a lesson. You may not realize it today or even years down the road, but there is one.

5. Laugh. Find something, anything to laugh about. Happiness is contagious, and even if you don’t feel it, you can at least fake it till you make it.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” This is one of the mantras I try to live by whenever things go wrong. We can choose to freak out and let our stories spiral out of control. Or, we can take the high road and shift our perspective. I hope you choose the latter.


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