There are times it's especially easy to be an optimist. It's as if the entire order of the universe just seems to flow directly into our train of needs and thoughts. We pull into a crowded parking lot, and a space appears before us. We find out that the bank made an accounting error: in our favor. We didn't have time to study for an exam, and yet the material on the test is the information we knew well. We investigate a vacation, and find the hotel of our dreams is within our budget. We run into an old friend within moments of thinking of her. We find out we're having a much wanted baby, or that our child has been accepted into the school of her choice, with an academic scholarship. It rains for a week before our wedding, and then clears up to be the most beautiful day of the year. There can be large strokes of luck....such as falling in love with the person of our dreams. There can be small ones, like finding just what you wanted on sale. These are the days in which it's very easy to say "Life is wonderful! I'm incredible blessed!". When life gives us unexpected, unanticipated or much desired results, we praise the highest heavens at our good fortune. We feel as if we're destined for all good things to come and that nothing can ever, or will ever, change these circumstances of bounty. Optimism at these times is a simple process: we expect good to come, as it has already done so.
Yet, all of us, at one time or another, have experience the depths of despair. We are passed over for a position we wanted very much. We find ourselves in financial hardship. We learn of a close friend's betrayal. We are diagnosed with life threatening, mysterious illness. We lose a much wanted baby. We watch a parent succumb to death. We find that even daily life become difficult. All the household appliances seem to break down at once. The furnace fails on the coldest day of winter. Our car slides off the road in icy conditions. Our children's hearts are broken, and there is nothing we can do about it. It's during these times that we wonder if we are cursed, rather than blessed. We feel as if we're blighted. It's during these times that it's very difficult to remember our benefits. We are so caught up in the wretched feeling of "What can possibly go wrong next?" that we fail to see the small boons that do come our way. It feels as if the universe is, in short, out of get us.
Friends, I have been through every single one of these experiences. I've enjoyed the joys of magnificent blessing. I've felt the sting of fear and heartache more times than I'd like to count. There are days I want to pinch myself that my life is real, that good things are always to come. There are other times in which I wonder why on earth I'm being tested to the point of breaking my spirit. Life is often like a roller coaster: there are exceptional highs in which I've felt on top of the world, and lows so terrifying, I wasn't sure I'd make it back up again. Still, when time marches forward, I learn my lessons, I get out of my own disappointed thoughts, and I do my best to to remain content along any of life's paths. I've often admired the words of St. Paul from the 4th chapter of Philippians, "for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. " I have not yet achieved his enlightened perspective on this subject. But, I'm working on it....every day is a new step towards optimism in all circumstances.
The most challenging aspect of this is, of course, that most of these challenges are beyond our control. We have no way to prevent horrible things from happening. We can be careful, we can be mindful and we can think out all ramifications. And yet, disaster can strike us at any time. That being said, we can choose to live two ways, according to Albert Einstein...."You can choose to live as nothing is a miracle, or, you can choose to live as if everything is a miracle." Just as we do not choose to pick our hardships, we also do not choose our miracles. They choose us. When difficult times arise, we can begin to look back and wonder "What can I gain from this situation?". I have found that, in my darkest hours, it's nearly impossible to see the sun. But, when the day dawns again, I begin to notice the preciousness of life, the fragility of love, the dearness of those precious to me and the blessings in every day comforts. We can take for granted all the wonderful, everyday occurrences far too easily. When life is bleak, however, we can look at the magnificence of the trees in Autumn, we can hear the laughter of a toddler and we can smell the aroma of freshly baked banana bread. These, too, can be counted as miracles.
In my yoga classes, I always try to include one especially challenging pose. Many of my students balk and and tell me that they just "can't" even attempt to try it. They are understandably afraid: a headstand, or other physically demanding asana, can be just as terrifying emotionally. Their fears keep them from even wanting to explore this pose against the wall for support. I have been told valid reasons for not wanting to try: neck injuries, light headedness, spinal pain. Still, for those who want to try to work beyond their uncertainty, the empowerment achieved is amazing. I have one elderly student who expressed great reasons for trepidation in her lack of zeal to do headstand. I explained that she certainly did not *need* to do this pose, and I offered her a much gentler alternative. Yet, when she saw the grins of a few others in the class, just TRYING, she asked if I could help her. Using blocks, blankets, and other yoga props, I aided her in achieving a supported version of headstand. "Elsa" was overwhelmed with joy. On her way out of class, she hugged me and said, "I didn't believe I could do it, but you believed I could. Thank you for believing in me."
Sometimes, in life, what we need is not a winning lottery ticket or sun on a rainy day. What we need is someone else to believe in us. We need another human being to say "I know it's hard and I am here for you, but I have faith you can do it!". That is the best gift we can share with another: the gift of optimism, on their behalf, when something is out of their control. It's my hope that we can find methods to achieve this for ourselves, also.