One of my buddies here was supposed to submit an article for publication, but got distracted by going home on leave. Yesterday I got a rather frantic phone call in which I was voluntold to submit the article myself, within a couple of hours' time. Since I've written about a lot of this stuff on my blog anyway, it won't be a surprise to any of my regular readers.
Here it is....
There are a lot of changes going on around us these days here at Camp Bondsteel and elsewhere. Change can lead to unhealthy stress, depending upon how well we cope with it. I suggest that a spiritual approach to that which life throws at us (or throws up on us) will lessen our stress and enable us to thrive in the midst of whatever’s going on – whether it’s yet another tweak of the Battle Rhythm or an early REFRAD. I want to share with you some simple ideas which can facilitate healthy and helpful responses to the changes which come our way.
1) When faced with a situation which leaves me anxious, afraid, or downright terrified, I ask myself, “What’s true right now?” I’m often tempted to jump to the worst possible conclusion and/or to assume that my only option involves the most dire scenario imaginable. Either of these reactions leads me to create more anxiety than is already present or warranted. This is decidedly unhelpful! By asking myself “What’s true right now?” I can avoid adding unmanageability into a situation that already has more than enough. I focus on only that which objectively exists in the present moment, and I eschew giving over my sanity and serenity to falsehoods and fantasies. If it’s not true RIGHT NOW, I’m not going to deal with it.
2) By discerning what is demonstrably true in the present moment, I can then choose to DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING. When sudden change occurs, the second- and third-order effects can leave me feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, because so much often needs to be done in so little time. Rather than succumbing to a sense of futility and defeat, I can perform a mental triage on my predicament, and then do the next right thing. After that, I do the *next* right thing, and so on. Having an ordered response to a disordered situation calms and reassures me. This allows me to move through the change with equanimity and grace.
3) As I identify what’s true right now, and then choose to do the next right thing, I’m really just practicing what some would call, “living in the moment,” or taking things “one day at a time.” While the sentiment may strike one as quaint or trite, the living out of life in this manner pays huge dividends. Because changes can so often ‘upset our apple cart’, it’s important that we be resilient and flexible. I can endure most anything for a short amount of time, so if I’m in the midst of something particularly distressing or painful, I have found that I need to move through the experience one hour at a time, or one minute at a time, or one breath at a time. If I attempt to take on the whole of the rest of my life (however long that might or might not be), as opposed to this next breath, or minute, or day, I will work at cross-purposes to my own best interest, and debilitate my mission effectiveness. If I’m living life one day at a time, I’m less likely to be fazed by life’s vicissitudes.
4) I make plans, but don’t plan outcomes. We all know that no plan survives first contact, but even so, it’s important to make plans. It’s at least as important for me *not* to assume that everything will proceed according to my script and direction. My experience has shown me that life more often than not surprises me with eventualities I could never have envisioned. If I’ve set my heart on one particular outcome to one particular plan, I’m almost certainly dooming myself to disappointment, embarrassment, and recrimination. By staying flexible and teachable, I can roll with whatever punches are thrown, all the while staying on my feet, or at least getting back up on them quickly.
5) Related to this kind of planning is the notion that expectations are premeditated resentments. This is especially true of hidden expectations! When I have decided what someone else needs to do (for me, with me, about me, around me, etc.), and then that person does something different (or not at all), I set myself up for a whopper of a grudge. By letting go of expectations, or at least making sure that all involved parties know what everyone’s expectations are, I can reduce the otherwise inevitable hurt feelings which (hidden) expectations occasion.
As a person who’s professionally religious, I of course like to look to the Hebrew/Aramaic and Christian Scriptures for hints as to how to address the painful phenomenon of change. However, irrespective of one’s spiritual or religious persuasion, adopting these simple suggestions can help any one of us to stare down the change which confronts us, and ultimately belly-laugh in its face.
Give them a try!
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ