Monday, December 1, 2014

Fortunate/Unfortunate. Where the Mind Lingers?

Glance at the clock.
Experiment A. Think of the best thing that has ever happened in your life. The greatest, most exhilarating time, the one that makes you feel your whole life was worth living.

Experiment B.  Now think on the worst thing that has ever happened to you. That soul wrecking moment that made you think life truly sucks.

If Experiment A took longer than Experiment B (or if B accounted more possible answers than A), then you're like me. In less than five seconds I came up with more than five flashbacks that qualified as "soul-wrecking-want-to-die" moments. On the other hand, I needed minutes (not going to say how many) to make up my mind about what would qualify as "whole-life-worth-living" moment.

I did this exercise long ago and my conclusion was that my life was just that difficult. I had too many bad experiences but good things were scarce in my past. Centuries later, I had a "conversation" with a good friend. We were supposed to be sharing our feelings and we ended up in a "who suffered the most" contest/argument. He put an end to it by pointing this out and adding one last thing. "I respect your pain. I don't know how much you're hurting because you're the one feeling it, not me.  But I seriously doubt anything in your past compares to the pain of shooting your little nephew by mistake while you were drunk and high. To me, you have many more blessings to count than misfortunes. It's just that you don't see them."

More centuries passed by before I could digest the idea that I insisted to engrave in my memory all the bad stuff and overlook the good stuff in my day to day. Occasionally, someone would point out the blessings I had, but I excelled in finding flaws for them. Why should I be happy for *that* if it was not exactly what I wanted, how I wanted it, when I wanted it? Alas! No one understood me or the depth of my suffering.

One day, Mother Dragon and I were arguing about why I couldn't let anger go in order to reach peace. I said "I can't. You don't understand that I can't! This is what I am." She took a deep breath and replied. "You are what you want to be. You can't because you really don't want peace. Start by saying to yourself that you can and act in consequence. See what happens."

I was so outraged. Stupid positive thoughts. As if repeating something like a parrot would have any tangible effect on reality. As if I had not tried that before.  Yet, there was a thought that stung me endlessly. I had tried positive thoughts before, but I rarely acted in consequence. I had said "I forgive you" but my mind lingered on the thoughts that made me angry. I had said "I can do this" but my mind lingered on all the reasons why I feared doing it. I had said "I believe in myself" but my heart lingered on all the emotions that made me despise myself and my actions spoke of them.

I tried the "Think and Act Strategy" this time. Even a small action would suffice. Instead of focusing on what made me suffer, or angry, or frustrated, I diverted my thoughts to something good. Anything I could notice, like sunlight, my dog making me smile, or the peace of the dragon garden. I actively sought to highlight all the good "little things" I could see and outnumber the one bad. It wasn't easy but eventually, I noticed slight changes in the gauge of "what I can and can't do". I started to act different of the person I was, but without being false. I was becoming someone else. A better version of myself. Baby steps, if you will, but each was huge for me.

I noticed I have a strong tendency to remember the bad things clearly but I forget quickly the good things. I started a log to register all the moments I felt any kind of joy. It didn't have to be an exhilarating time. A pleasant moment would do. Have you ever done an expense log? You're amazed on how many useless things you squander your money and you don't notice. A diet log? It's kind of shocking to realize how much food you can eat and forget. Registering pleasant moments is quite an enlightening exercise. Only when we actually see all "little things" together, their huge impact on our life sinks in.

I believe now that whether my life is good or bad depends a great deal on what I want (and let my mind) to highlight, to linger on. There will always be good and bad things. In my experience, lingering in the bad will NEVER make life better. I will just stay angry, or sad, or anguished until I get sicker and then I'll be angrier, sadder and more anguished. If I really want peace, it's not enough to think "The sun'll come out tomorrow". If you want sun tomorrow, you start clearing clouds today. One must act in consequence every single time one tries a positive thought.

In Loving Memory of our furry child, Nicole
My mind lingers not on the good-bye,
but on all the joy and unconditional love you gave us.
Godspeed, big Chihuahua.

For all writers out there, IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond is available  now!
ISBN 9781939844088
235 pages, FREE

This post is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh. You can also find IWSG on Facebook - Critique Group.


  1. I took me longer to think of the good as well. But you are right. We shouldn't dwell on the bad things. I'm so fortunate, but I don't always remember that. Thank you for putting things in perspective for me. Yay for the IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond.

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss, Father Dragon. We lost our furry friend recently too. Hugs to you and yours.

    I think it's human nature for us to gravitate towards the negative, especially people like me, who need a recovery program to point me in the right direction. In that program we write out gratitude lists. Let me tell ya, the first one I did took waaayyy to long. I only had to come up with ten things I was grateful for, the next list - twenty…I almost couldn't do it. It would've been far easier to write a woes me list back then. But, being happy is a conscious decision at time.

  3. Stupid positive thoughts - funny!
    I think it does depend on what we focus on in our memory. How many times we reply it in our head. And the pain becomes worse when we think of it over and over again.
    Really sorry about Nicole. Goldens are such sweet dogs.
    Thanks for mentioning the IWSG book.

  4. "You are what you want to be." Sorry, but Mother Dragon was right. Our thoughts and our attitude are the only things in life we can control. We can choose happiness or we can choose misery.

  5. I'm in the same cycle of negative thoughts. I have a tough time letting go. Bad stuff that happened decades ago feel fresh in my mind as if I'm going through that pain and hardship all over again. It's terrible. It's not easy changing when your brain is already "programmed" that way.

  6. I think you wrote this for me. Well, maybe not. It's the human condition, isn't it? We fill our well with regret and second-guessing, and while we're paddling around in that rising tide, we sometimes forget all that was beautifully and well done--by, guess who? US! The past can't be changed. The future can't be guessed. The moment of now is all we have. Now, if I can only keep that foremost in my mind, I'll do just fine. Thanks for the thoughtful post. So sorry about your canine friend. She was beautiful.

  7. I am so sorry for you loss. They wind their furry paws deep into our heart strings and take a piece of us with them when they leave.

  8. That excercise is a real eye-opener Al and I'm sure it also leans towards the "half-empty/full" mind-set. Sorry for your losses Dragon. May the next century bring you joy.

  9. So well said, Al. It does sometimes takes practice, especially when we fall into a hole. It takes time and effort to crawl out again. Thank you for the reminder.

  10. Thank you for speaking directly to me with this post. I think I need to try a positive feeling journal. It's a great idea.

    And I'm so very sorry for your loss.

  11. I understand so well, Father Dragon. I get in the same cycles. When I was younger, they were much more tight and intense, but age has mellowed me. The little things do help a lot. There are so many bad big things, I must hold the wonderful good little things close. Let them nurture your soul. I offer my sympathies again for your loss and more hugs.

  12. Hi Father Dragon .. well done for realising Mother Dragon has some wise words and thoughts ... it is mind over matter ... the mind just needs to remember the good things - the smiles, to share a chat with a friend or someone out and about ... change direction and leave those challenges behind. I use the phrase 'turn on my heel' .. and make sure I get on with something else ... things do turn around .. so good luck and lots of happy memories of those furry hugs and licks .. cheers Hilary

  13. It took me longer to think of the good, too. I think we all tend to remember the bad more because the bad/negative tends to impact us more deeply. You're right thought that linger on the bad will never make life better. We have to move on. Great post!

  14. Oh my beloved Dragon, we are so much alike. I'm trying so hard to do the exact same thing. Little by little though, I think it is working. I know I owe much of it to the blessing of my Fellowship.

    I'm so sorry about your Nicole. What a beauty she was. Love you Dragon! Lily Eva, IWSG Co-host

  15. Sorry to hear you lost your furry friend. It sounds like you've had a rough life, and though it seems wrong in the light of other's suffering, I am thankful for how little bad has happened to me. I pray that things look up for you, and that the clouds will part and the sun will shine down on you, warming your scales with the wonder of life. Many blessings your way, Father Dragon. May your day be bright.

  16. Once I realized the power of choice, it made a huge difference. We can't do anything about the past anyway, so letting it make us angry seems a waste of time to me. It would certainly be foolish to let the past dictate our future - something we can't really plan anyway, but we can sabotage it if we try hard enough.

  17. Sometimes, we just need to stop and think about the good things in our lives. And my condolences on losing Nicole.

  18. Funny how the memory filters things. In general, I think we forget the bad stuff and glorify the past, except for things having to do with our shortcomings or people who've hurt us. With those, we tend to cling to the negative.

    Beautiful dog - what a loss. Hugs, my friend.

  19. It's funny, I got to experiment A and immediately thought of births. My sons. My grandchildren. Ultimate joys. Then for B, the other side of the coin. Loved ones lost. Most recently my dad. But it's all part of the circle and accepting that brings peace.

    I'm sorry for your loss of Nicole. I'm sure you brought each other great joy.

  20. I thought about how I met you. then I thought how dwarves started stalking me. it was kinda the same time frame. what do I do about THAT??

  21. Nicole looks so sweet...sorry to hear the sad news...
    I'm the kind of person who tends to block out whatever I don't want to think about...and then I move on...not always a healthy approach.

  22. Giant, big hugs!!! I know what it's like to lose a furry friend.

  23. Sorry to hear about Nicole, always hard to lose a faithful friend. Remember those happy times you spent together. Wise words indeed from Mother Dragon.

  24. Losing a friend is never easy. Hugs to you and Mother Dragon.

    Believe it or not, but I have had people complain that I am too positive. But I took your advice long ago (I must have inherently been on a Dragon wave!). I decided it was easy to be unhappy, to dwell on the bad, but it didn't get you anywhere. Instead, when I am mad, sad, or whatever- I remind myself, right now as I dwell in my dark place there is a child on a cancer ward. That always gives my trouble perspective. Most of what I have to complain about is really nothing.

    But when your health drags you down, it's hard to stay matter what trick you use.

  25. Hi Al,

    My kind friend, we know that life is about choices. Sometimes the choices seem to be sabotaged by a set of circumstances beyond our control. I do know that in the face of adversity, I actually reflect upon what I want to have come of the negative aspects. To find the positive in the most negative of situations I know you understand that being positive when there are so many reasons not to feel that way can be hard work. Yet the alternative is a place I try to stay away from.

    Mother Dragon is of wisdom. Your beloved dog, Nicole, is of wisdom. I'm sorry about the passing of Nicole and yet, her love will always be there. Something most positive.

    In peace and kindness,


  26. I am learning this lesson every day, again and again. Thanks to you and our other partners I am "forced " to acknowledge the good in my life everyday. This is the kind of "never ending story" I love!