"When you persuade yourself that you "get to do something rather than "have to," you can find a silver lining." Josh King Madrid, entrepreneur, writer, speaker
This morning John was getting a bowl out of one of our drawers. It reminded him that I want a new bowl.
“So, you want a big bowl like this crockery one, but not so heavy.”
There is a pause here. John is surveying the hefty crockery bowl.
“ I like this bowl, June. Have you thought of reframing it? You could think about how good it is to have this heavy bowl to lift. You could think about how it makes you stronger.”
Of course, I absolutely believe in the power of reframing. It’s an essential skill to help us develop into mature, resilient, grateful, mentally healthy human beings.
When we change our point of view on a situation (on others, on ourselves), though reality does not change, we see it differently, in a new, more useful way. That novel perspective can offer up opportunity and can invigorate us.
We shift from seeing life as full of mind-numbing problems to seeing life as full of challenges which can stretch us, make us more capable, and enrich us. Even that shift in wording …from “problems” to “challenges” can liberate new inner resources. I know this.
Despite embracing the idea on an abstract level, when it was offered up in real life, some part of me got annoyed. With teeth clenched I murmured, “Yes, I can reframe it, John.”
It was a passive-aggressive sort of signal, I guess. Then, for a few minutes, I entertained some ungracious thoughts in my head.
John must have gotten the message. He said, “But you don’t want to reframe it. You want a new bowl.” Then he made a hasty retreat to the laundry room.
I could hear him rattling around in there. Though he may have been tempted, John knew better than to gripe about the leaky valve to the washing machine hose. He rightly perceived I would sweetly remind him that it was an “opportunity” for building his competence in home repairs.
Though I’m making a bit of fun here, the ability, the willingness, to allow ourselves to reframe can almost magically move us from being victims to being victors. People who are skilled at reframing can find silver linings and reasons to be grateful even in adversity for example.
The ability to shift how we see others (and ourselves) can defuse our judgment and anger and help us be wiser, more compassionate, and loving, and able to move forward in helpful ways.
Again, I’m not saying reframing adversity or problems is our natural initial response to “negative” situations or people. We may need time to process, to acknowledge and accept our emotions and consider our needs before being willing to take a different perspective.
On a serious note, one of the noteworthy people who studied, taught, and wrote about the importance of being able to reframe for our survival and flourishing even in horrendous conditions was Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. He saw the hideous situation of being in a Nazi death camp for three years, losing his family, starving, and being tortured as a chance to become more skilled as a healer and helper. Frankl transformed his suffering into a grand purpose.
Last night a group of us was discussing tragic events and suffering. Someone mentioned the possibility of finding a gift in suffering. Of having a choice about how we viewed adversity.
But then we thought of heinous events. Babies suffering at the hands of adults. Pits of burning babies at the hands of the Nazis. How could someone even suggest being grateful or compassionate in such circumstances? It seemed somewhat perverse to even consider it.
However, I lean here on the words of Brother David Steindl-Rast, the world’s imminent scholar and practitioner of taking responsibility for our attention. He encourages us to allow ourselves to shift our attention (toward seeing some good, being grateful) even in the worst of circumstances.
Steindl-Rast says that of course we should never suggest to someone in deep pain (including ourselves), at the height of pain, that this is a great opportunity to practice gratitude and compassion.
We would not say this to the beaten child, the raped girls, the prisoner of a concentration camp. We should never tell them their suffering is good for them. It’s terrible. We grieve for them.
And yet, the great teachings about compassion, love, and suffering hold up, Steindl-Rast offers. The wisdom literature tells us that in the long run, to fully heal from trauma and pain, a person must eventually accept that what happened happened, and learn to forgive internally in order to grow and love.
Steindl-Rast tells us to take the word of many thousands of people who have been through living hell and come out on the other side…with their hearts broken open.
If they can’t do this, the pain will never go away. This process may take a lifetime. Maybe it will never happen. But if it does happen, people will say – no matter how horrible the trauma, that they learned from it, were opened up to love and understanding.
Someone in our group reminded us of holocaust survivor turned psychologist, now in her nineties, Dr. Edie Eger. She is the author of two books – The Choice and The Gift. In her writings and her counsel she reminds us that we have a choice to break out of the prison in our minds, choose a new perspective, and see the gift in others, ourselves, and our situations – our lives.
After our conversations last night and my encounter with John this morning (I'm still working on the idea of enjoying lifting my heavy bowl), I looked for a youtube of Dr. Eger. I have read her books, but wanted to bring her wisdom back to mind. She psyches me up to be more open to shifting my perspective, to reframing my setbacks, adversity, and suffering (there’s no hierarchy of suffering she says, even our “little sufferings” are big to us).
Also here’s a wonderful short, MUST SEE joyful, little animated youtube which does a fabulous job of helping us shift our perspectives on other's behaviors. There can be delightful, unexpected outcomes (thank you, Ellen). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lo-8UWhVcg
How might we learn more about the gifts of reframing and journey together to the Good Life?