Normalizing Affords Relief

Recent experiences have caused me to reflect on one of my favorite books of all time Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Since returning from my first weeklong training session with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, I have been playing with this concept of normalizing my experiences. In other words, in the midst of worry, fear, fretting, resisting…can I take a pause and observe how I am experiencing a challenging emotional state in my mind-body? Can I even go one step further and remind myself that all these emotional states are simply part of the human experience? They are not reflective of a fatal character flaw but of the fact that I'm alive. Our mind thinks like the heart beats and our lungs breathe.

In the aforementioned story, Alexander, who is perhaps eight or nine years old, takes the reader through his horrible day. Siblings taunt him, friends laugh at him, pets ignore him and his parents frustrate him. In short, he feels completely victimized by the universe. As a child I found such comfort in the fact that he, too, struggled. In fact, I often laughed hysterically at each and every misfortunate event that occurred. Throughout the story, Alexander insists he will move to Australia thus implying that when he gets to Australia he will be forever rid of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. The story ends….spoiler alert…with Alexander telling the reader, “…My Mickey Mouse night light is burned out and then I bit my tongue. It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. But my Mom says that some days are like that even in Australia.” Alexander’s mom normalized his day! She didn’t dismiss his frustrations but calmly conveyed that some days just stink. And, moving to Australia wouldn't relieve him of that reality.

So many times I’ve thought about if x happens then I can relax, but then x happens and I still can’t relax. My focus and attention become hooked by the next irritant or stressor. Habits, especially ones that have accrued over thirty years, unfortunately don't dissolve over night. Recalling this lovable character from children’s literature has recently helped me find a bit of playful humor as I try my best to stand back and observe those challenging, yet temporary, states of mind.

In closing, I offer a riddle I once heard at a silent retreat- What can make a rich man sad and a poor man happy?

(Answer: The saying, "This too shall pass.")