Last Sunday evening, I was on my way home from the movies. I had just seen Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, which features a star-struck Owen Wilson wandering around the streets of Paris counting his creative blessings. I had a decidedly more urgent stride on for my walkabout, on that lovely June evening in Nice. The sun was on the horizon, the air was cooling down, and my osteopath had instructed me to do more walking (for my circulation). Dusk is the migration period for pickpockets, and I didn’t want to get caught dawdling. So my pace was a bit faster than usual.
I was really enjoying this walk when I spied a boy sitting on a post drinking from a bottle of water. I’m not sure if it was that certain glow of twilight reflecting off the water, or what was going on in my head, but I was distracted. I held my gaze on him for a split second too long, and when I let it go, voilà! I found myself up against an immovable post with a smack! I had enough time to get my hand up to touch this post, but not enough time to avoid smashing headlong into it.
It hurt. It hurts still, now one week later. A deep breath, a good stretch, a workout, a laugh, and certainly a sneeze are not as easy as they were eight days ago. So…
What to make of it?
When I was a child, I was deeply hurt by a boy I knew very well. It took me decades, countless hours of crying and talking and ranting with professional support, to get over it. What finally did it for me, after all the emotional detoxing, was an enlightened insight emanating from my own grey matter about Friendly Fire. I finally realized, knowing that the boy never would, that he did not set out to hurt me. Rather, in his flailing attempts to right himself from his own childhood wounds, he inadvertently struck me. In the same way, on the battlefield, from time to time we end up wounding “one of our own.”
The outside circumstances of life cause us problems. Right? The surly woman behind the counter, the company that restructured you out of your job, the business partner who stole your wife; they are all malicious posts on the sidewalk. It’s an easy misjudgment to make.
But it’s hard to blame a post. And that makes it a great example for how much power we actually do have over what follows the Smack!
Getting trapped in trying to change things that can’t be changed robs us of our power to change what we can. I can’t say I didn’t question why those stupid posts are there on my sidewalk! The ludicrous nature of the argument becomes apparent pretty quickly. Not so easy with the people, places and things of our lives. But, for me, three creative guidelines emerged from that traumatic moment:
- Be mindful. A sage old Buddhist man I met in Sri Lanka last year said it best for me: “Keep your mind where your feet are.” How I wish I had!
- Tell the truth. The problem is not out there. The posts are just being posts. I can trust them to be exactly what they are. And I’m wasting my time and energy demanding that they be anything else!
- Make a choice. With the first two guidelines in place, I am empowered to walk down the same street with confidence and joy… and the presence to dance with whatever comes.
Circumstances are the most powerful partners we have for choreographing our lives. What we call circumstances could as easily be called What-Is or even Life. I can’t help thinking of Fred Astaire, and what he might have done with that post. I guess I need a little more practice.