You might think it strange that an optimist like me, on an encouraging and uplifting site like SMART Living 365, would ever ask the question: “What do you do when things fall apart?” And yes, there is a best-selling book by Pema Chodron with the title When Things Fall Apart. So what makes me think I can add to the brilliant words offered by that woman? Because I’m human. And because even though I’m not an expert, I do believe we are all more similar than not. Plus, because even when we know better—even when we think we are better, stuff still happens. Then, when it does, we have the option of taking our experience in one of two ways. My recent experience in Mexico offers the perfect example.
First off, as some of you know Thom and I have been visiting Ajijic, Mexico (pronounced Ah-hee-heek) for the last three weeks. I love Mexico, the culture, the people and just about every location we have ever visited here. We’d heard about Ajijic and the Lake Chapala area for years. This summer we took the opportunity to fly down and stay in an apartment. The weather is near perfect. Our apartment is clean, spacious, attractive, and comfortable. The location is ideal. The neighborhood is close-in enough to easily walk to shops and restaurants, but surprisingly quiet for Mexico. There is a solar-heated pool that makes lazy afternoons wonderful. And the people here—expats and locals, are all very friendly and interesting. Sounds like a perfect vacation huh?
But remember I said that “things happen?” At the end of our second day here I was rushing around the apartment closing curtains and slammed my thigh into a chest at the end of our king-sized bed. Damn it hurt. Bad. I yelped out loud and Thom came running and told me to immediately apply Arnica crème. Which I did. Unfortunately, an hour later my thigh ballooned up as tight as a drum. That’s when applying ice occurred to me.
Research hound that I am I immediately googled “bad bruises” and found that I needed to continue to apply ice periodically. It was also recommended that I elevate the leg and stay off my feet. What??? I can barely keep my FOMO in check as it is (FOMO=fear of missing out) so I knew this would be tough. I barely slept that first night trying to get comfortable but figured that if I laid low for a couple of days I would be back to tearing around like usual. I was wrong.
I knew from my research that as long as I could still walk, even if somewhat sore and uncomfortable, that I hadn’t broken anything. Okay, that meant patience was the remedy. But, like many control issues, we are okay with being patient as long as it applies to someone else. Or, as long as it happens in the time frame we deem acceptable. I gave it a couple of days. It is now one week later.
Of course, it’s not like I’m completely stuck. After giving it one full day off, I started hobbling around a little to lunch and/or dinner. We also managed a little sight-seeing in our immediate area and joined the local expat group called The Lake Chapala Society (LCS). We met a dozen or more interesting people who now call Ajijic and nearby towns their home. And with the help of a driver made it to the dentist’s office for a great tooth cleaning experience (me) and a new crown (Thom).
A couple of days later I limped to the pool for an afternoon dip. I read that swimming was a good way to rehab my leg. Unfortunately, I forgot I was wearing my $1,600 hearing aids and dipped my head under water. And while I immediately pulled them out and dried them as best I could—who knows whether they will ever work again?
Then yesterday. Thom happened to mention that my eye was red. I occasionally have allergy issues that affect my eyes, so I used my drops and didn’t give it another thought. But by evening it was really itchy and sort of sore. I looked in the mirror and what did I see—a sty. WTH? I have never had a sty in my life! Again, I researched and it said that keeping it clean and periodic warm compresses are the best way to heal them.
Okay. So, we go to bed and for some reason my leg ached badly (did I walk too much?) so that there is no way for me to get comfortable. I was up and down all night. My eye is goopy and stuck together. You don’t need any more details than that to know that I wasn’t my usual happy personality at this point. In fact, I sort of felt like I was falling apart and I wanted to cry in frustration and surrender.
So, What’s The Point?
What happened next is the focus of this entire post. It doesn’t matter if you have ever found yourself in Mexico, with a bum leg, ruined hearing aids, and half-blind or not. It doesn’t even matter if you are completely healthy and something just happened that caught you by surprise and threw the course of your life in a completely different direction. It doesn’t matter if you recently lost someone close, your job, or your sense of self. What does matter is that you have the awareness of mind to ask yourself—what’s next? Where do I go from here?
As I was laying there at the edge of tears I had a moment of clarity. What? Here I am lying next to a man I love and who would jump up in an instant to help me if I called. I am in a town, on a trip, that is filled with good people, beauty, fun and adventure. I have an overall healthy body, sufficient resources, great friendships, and my life is filled with purpose and meaning. What do I want to focus on in this moment?
That’s it really. When things fall apart, or we feel we are falling apart, we can either focus on the broken aspects of the moment and can:
- Cry (although crying can sometimes alleviate a little pressure!)
- Post your troubles on FB and get everyone to feel sorry for you
- Complain to everyone you can find to listen
- Blame someone or something
- Fight it
Or, in those same moments we can:
- Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are
- Remember all that is good in your life and what you have to be grateful for
- Know that this too shall pass
- Accept the present moment and know you are not in control of everything!
- Find peace in the situation
As for me, I got up and took a Tylenol. I also put a warm compress on both my leg AND my eye and went back to sleep after doing some gratitude exercises. And you know what? This morning not only did my leg and my eye feel better—so did I! It’s a beautiful day in Ajijic and I know I am healing. Plus, after two days of drying out in a bag of rice, my hearing aids work as good as new.
Now some people might insist that such a clear choice isn’t possible for them. Others might say that I’m denying reality. But while I’ll agree that sometimes no matter where you are or what you are doing things suck—I still believe our perception of reality is more malleable than we usually accept. So, while we might not be able to change our circumstances, we can always change how we perceive them. In addition, I had a wise teacher once who recommended, “If you are going through hell, don’t stop and buy a condo.” Keep going. Choose the light.
I don’t know if this idea is helpful to you, but it works for me. And while I have Pema Chodron’s book at home, I didn’t refer to her words of wisdom to write this even though I’m sure she’d have some more wonderful advice. My big take-away from all of this is that when things fall apart, we mostly have two big choices to make. Do I give in to the pain/frustration/falling apart—or do I do my best to find peace in the situation and move forward. I believe the SMART path is to look for the good and remember, as Chodron’s says, “You are the sky—everything else is just the weather.”
- It is now three weeks later and I am 90% healed. Stay tuned next week when I share some of the best parts (and people) we met during our three-week vacation in Mexico.
Okay, your turn. Have you ever felt your life was falling apart? What got you through it? What advice can you offer the rest of us to help us find the “light” when going through tough times.