“The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery, even when they have to take a detour”
-Sir James Jeans
Who needs GPS?!? When it comes to driving anywhere, I tend to believe I will figure out the route on my own. In my head, I think I’ve reached this destination…or in the general vicinity…at least once before. Or did I just imagine I did?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I usually end up on a detour.
It’s not that I refuse to admit I’m directionally challenged. I fully confess I am, but I like to believe I don’t need to rely on technology. My internal compass will point me in the right direction. It’s a subconscious challenge to find the way. This often leads to a wrong turn, and driving in a big square, which takes me back to the point where I should have mapped out my destination in the first place!
This may or may not sound familiar, but I’m sure you can imagine the response.
In the past, these detours would leave me frustrated. Once again, I’ve failed at choosing the right turn. I deride myself for ending up on a new path. My blood pressure would rise, as I was slow to recognize even a detour will eventually lead me to my destination. My response, although mild, was negatively charged.
At some point in my life, I became tired of feeling frustrated with wrong turns. I had to decide to either start using a GPS or to adjust my reaction to the detours. So, I adapted what I fondly think of as a hybrid approach. Sometimes I’ll use an app to start in the right direction, and when an area starts to look familiar, I’ll shut down the app. And yes, I still tend to make wrong turns. However, what has changed the most, is my acceptance that I am on an unplanned path.
Last weekend, I found myself on a detour, so I decided to look around and enjoy the landscape. Passing a small pond, I was struck by the hundreds of geese gathered on this small area of water. It was a phenomenal number. Despite the roads and housing now closely bordering the pond, these geese adjusted to the changes. They continue to return to where they were born for this yearly gathering. More and more, year after year.
I know what you’re thinking. “Geese”??
You expected something more riveting than geese…but, I’m telling you, there were hundreds on this little tiny little piece of real estate. I realized I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this sight had I not made a wrong turn and found myself on a detour.
If you think of all the detours you face in life, how often do we struggle to enjoy the scenery along the way? Failed tests, summer school, missed trains, relationships ending, job changes, cancelled trips, and empty nests. All of these take us off our set path. We humans are all born to make spectacular mistakes, yet somewhere along the way, if we detour, we carry around guilt, shame and self-criticism. The world is in a constant state of change, yet is so difficult for us to adjust when things go wrong or we are pushed on a path we would not have chosen. When did we start resisting detours and start expecting life to be constantly stable?
This past year, no GPS could have prevented this detour from life as we know it. Since March 2020, we have faced months of unpredictability and change. Like the geese on the pond, we humans like familiarity, predictability and direction. This pandemic has been an unwanted detour that has left many of us feeling frustrated and helpless.
When thinking of a person enjoying the scenery while on a detour, I can’t help but think of how mindfulness practice would help many people through this pandemic.
Mindfulness in simple terms, is learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment. Staying in the moment, and being aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment. Mindfulness is not thinking about the past and how great it was when we could go out dancing or playing sports. Mindfulness is not worrying about when these lockdowns will end or what tomorrow will look like. Mindfulness is being present in this day, and learning that if we have any control, it is only over this very moment. Perhaps we have some control over the next hour or two, but who can be sure? We may not have any control at all. Yet here we are, taking care of our basic human needs in this moment, and patiently waiting and accepting life as it unfolds.
There is a famous story about a farmer who had an old horse to help plow the fields. One day, the horse escaped and galloped away. The farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the man and suggested it was very bad news, and the farmer replied, “Good or bad? Who knows?”
A week later, the horse came back with a herd of wild horses! Now the neighbors congratulated the farmer on this good news. He replied, “Good or bad? Who knows?
Later the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, and he fell from the horse and broke his leg. Everyone said this was very bad news. The farmer’s reaction was “Good or bad? Who knows?
Finally, some time later, the army marched into the village enlisting every strong young man they found. When they saw the farmer’s son with this broken leg, they passed him by.
Good or bad? Who knows?
This is what mindfulness or acceptance looks like. It is what being open to an unplanned detour means. Letting go to let life and circumstances happen. It is about recognizing something that seems bad at first, may actually have elements of good. It doesn’t mean we have to like our circumstances all the time, and it doesn’t mean we cannot work to change our circumstances, but we at least recognize it is neither good nor bad, it just is.
Acceptance is stopping to breathe deeply and adjusting your sails. How serious is the situation? What can I do to stay calm and resolve it? Maybe even find some personal growth or new learning in the process or outcome? How good are you at not resisting? Allowing life to unfold? Truly looking around you in this very moment, can you be okay with what is?
Mindfulness is a mentality we should constantly strive to adapt. It’s not easy to become fully mindful. However, reminding yourself to stay present in the moment may help you accept, enjoy the scenery, and persevere to reach your destination, whatever that may be.