Mak­ing peace with pes­simism

Kingston Whig-Standard - - FORUM - SUSAN YOUNG Susan Young is a cer­ti­fied life coach with a pri­vate prac­tice in guid­ing peo­ple through trans­for­ma­tion and a mind­ful­ness fa­cil­i­ta­tor. To con­tact her [email protected]­san­coach.ca

Dur­ing the hol­i­days, I put pres­sure on my­self to be happy and grate­ful for all that I have and all that I share with my loved ones. I long to step up to the plate of sea­sonal joy but don’t al­ways make the mark with my nat­u­ral ten­dency to pes­simism.

Many, though not all, of us liv­ing here in Canada have so much. I have ev­ery­thing I need and most of what I want — a warm house, abun­dant food, beloved friends and fam­ily and the in­cred­i­ble good for­tune to be Cana­dian.

I do feel a strong pull to live in hap­pi­ness and grat­i­tude. No, it’s more than that. I be­lieve I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to live in grat­i­tude be­cause I have so much com­pared to oth­ers here at home and around the world.

And yet I often feel sor­row and re­gret, anx­i­ety and worry, about big and some­times very small things. The big things: a friend strug­gling with cancer; our planet in deep trou­ble; and con­cern for my adult chil­dren. And the smaller things: my knees giv­ing out and won­der­ing what life holds for me as I round the corner into my 60s.

I’ve been learn­ing how to make peace with this seem­ing con­flict be­tween the pos­i­tive and the neg­a­tive like hope and de­spair. Can I be op­ti­mistic on the whole, em­brace what is good, while hon­our­ing my pes­simism?

For ex­am­ple, some­times I feel heavy with de­spair at our dis­re­gard for the en­vi­ron­ment, con­vinced we’re hurtling to­ward dis­as­ter. But then, a sliver of hope emerges when I hear of some­one like Xi­uhtez­catl (pro­nounced ShoeTez-Caht) Martinez, an 18-yearold Indige­nous en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, pub­lic speaker (watch his fab­u­lous Ted Talks) and amaz­ing hip-hop artist.

Maybe deal­ing with emo­tional and in­tel­lec­tual con­tra­dic­tions is just part of the hu­man con­di­tion. Let’s face it, as a species we bring a pretty mixed bag to just about any­thing we do. At times we’re driven by greed and a hunger for more even at the cost of our very planet. And yet we can also ex­pe­ri­ence and share love, re­spect, kind­ness and in­cred­i­ble gen­eros­ity.

Over the years as I’ve stud­ied and taught mind­ful­ness, I’ve learned how to lean into things with­out need­ing to change them. For ex­am­ple, ac­knowl­edg­ing sor­row when it arises, even dur­ing the sea­son of joy, with­out squash­ing it. Like­wise, I’m learn­ing to em­brace hap­pi­ness as it emerges, with­out try­ing to force it or feel it to the ex­clu­sion of all else. Last thing I want to be is a plas­tic Bar­bie with a fake smile plas­tered on my face!

I’ve learned I can cul­ti­vate grat­i­tude by prac­tis­ing it. Each night, I write down three things I’m grate­ful for, and ev­ery morn­ing, I med­i­tate. I’ve stopped com­par­ing my life to the per­fect hap­pi­ness ev­ery­one seems so keen on dis­play­ing on so­cial me­dia. And I send old-fash­ioned thank you notes ev­ery once in a while to let peo­ple know how much I ap­pre­ci­ate what they’ve done. All this helps to keep me in the present mo­ment and I’m less likely to worry about the fu­ture or re­gret the past.

But, like any nat­u­ral pes­simist, I need to stay con­nected to the real and po­ten­tial chal­lenges I face in day-to-day life. Think of the air traf­fic con­troller who is re­al­is­ti­cally as­sess­ing con­di­tions for safe flight: should this plane land now ... if so, in what lane ... do we need to de-ice first? I’m glad she’s there, do­ing her job and keep­ing me safe.

So I’m work­ing to­ward mak­ing peace with my pes­simist na­ture and hold­ing op­ti­mism in my heart. Feel­ing both grat­i­tude and sor­row. We get the whole “kit and ca­boo­dle,” as my grand­fa­ther used to say, on this won­der­ful jour­ney of be­ing hu­man.

Feel free to send along your thoughts and ideas about con­tra­dic­tions about the sea­son of joy.

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