By Shopa, New Age Islam
19 May 2016
Life is a blessing, a gift, they say. I suppose it is. But for me, it doesn’t always seem that way. Sometimes, I feel as if life is a terrible burden. Like just the other day, for instance, when, for a while, almost everything seemed to go wrong.
I stepped out of bed and switched on the light but discovered that the voltage was very low. So, I couldn’t do my morning reading. That wasn’t all that terrible really, but it was enough to make me mildly irritated. The irritation would probably have passed just as easily as it had arrived but, shortly after this, I stepped out for a walk and on the way spotted an innocent-looking, pathetically skinny dog who, I was told, was fed by its so-called ‘owners’ just once a day for fear that otherwise it would sleep ‘too much’. How can people be so cruel to animals, and that, too, to ‘their’ pets? Cursing the ‘owners’ of the poor thing in my mind, I walked on, only to bump into a giant scorpion that lay sprawled out near my feet. Luckily, it was dead, but even a dead giant scorpion can be really eeeeeky (you know what I mean, even though my laptop doesn’t recognise that word)! That made me even more upset than I already was.
Triggered off by my reactions to this series of ‘unpleasant’ encounters, my mind was rapidly transformed into a theatre where a furious storm of negative thoughts, mostly totally unrelated to what I had just experienced, raged uncontrollably. And all at once, life seemed such an onerous burden!
As happened with me the other day, a single situation that we might find troubling can easily trigger off a whole host of negative emotions and thoughts in our minds, many of which may have no connection whatsoever with the original situation that occasioned our initial reaction. This can make life seem intolerable, an enormous burden almost too difficult to bear. Our reaction to even a minor unpleasant experience can sour our mood for the rest of the day if we allow ourselves to yield to the temptation to nurture negative or depressing thoughts as a reaction. I, for one, find that I sometimes need almost no excuse to waste several precious hours nursing a jungle of negative thoughts in the wake of what I later realise was a relatively minor difficult experience.
On such occasions, I find that I love to revel in negativity, the pain of which gives me some sort of perverse pleasure, even as it makes me miserable and makes life seem like such a terrible chore.
Luckily, the storm of negative thoughts that danced about in my mind other day quieted down after a short while. Later in the day, as I reflected on the experience I realised that, as had happened with me that morning, when we find ourselves feeling miserable, it is because we have chosen to feel that way. No matter how irritating or difficult the external situation we may be faced with seems—low voltage, dim lights, a starving dog, cruel-hearted dog ‘owners’, a dead scorpion—we can choose to be happy if we want to, by choosing the appropriate way to respond.
When faced with a difficult situation, directing our minds to focus on possible solutions, rather than obsessing about the problem itself, is a much more helpful way of responding. Not only might this help to resolve the issue that’s troubling us, it will lighten the burden of negative emotions that fretting about the problem will inevitably generate.
So, for instance, while it was but natural for me to feel pained at the way the starving dog was being treated, instead of cursing its ‘owners’ in my mind and making myself miserable (which didn’t make any difference to the dog’s plight), I could have thought of taking some meaningful action to alleviate its suffering. That very thought itself would have uplifted my spirits. (I am happy to report that I did take some meaningful action in this regard later on. With God’s grace, I met one of the dog’s ‘owners’ and pointed out that the animal seemed underfed and suggested that he give it food more than just once a day. I put the point across as diplomatically as I could and said that I hoped that he didn’t think I was interfering. He said he’d do the needful. Meanwhile, there’s another thing I am doing: praying to God to bless the dog with regular food and water and to guide its ‘owners’ to take good care of it).
Even in the seemingly most trying situation there’s at least one redeeming feature—if only that, like every other situation, this one, too, will pass. Without ignoring the other aspects of the situation, if we train our minds to also recognize the situation’s positive aspects, we can make the situation seem less grim and difficult to bear than it might otherwise appear, even as we go about trying to do what we can to remedy it.
Of course, it isn’t always easy—though in theory it is entirely possible—to carefully choose the right thoughts, words and actions to respond with when faced with a difficult situation. We can remain peaceful and happy even in such situations if we choose to focus on possible solutions instead of obsessing about the problem as such and by training our minds to look at the positive aspects that every situation, even the seemingly most difficult, is bound to contain. If we do so, the situation might no longer seem to be as overwhelming as it might otherwise seem.
Happiness and misery are a result of our own choices. They aren’t forced on us. No one can force us to be miserable against our will. No one can compel us to be unhappy if we choose not to be so.
Often, we have no control over the difficult situations we are confronted with. But what we can certainly control are our responses to them. If we choose the right responses, even in the midst of very trying situations we wouldn’t want to give up on life or fall prey to the temptation to think of life as a heavy burden, and not the blessing that it is.