It is not a matter of “if”, it’s a matter of “when”.
There are some things in life, like needing a doctor, benefitting from learning to read, write, & do arithmetic, that are unavoidable. A happy life full of positive thinking still is going to include misfortune and mistakes. The great news is that happiness has nothing to do with not having any misfortune or mistakes. The other great news is that you are capable of overcoming whatever those challenges are. Sometimes overcoming is as easy as getting the hose out and spraying the poop off the bottom of our shoe. Sometimes overcoming is simply still being alive, in one piece, with our mental and physical health in good working order on the other side.
How long after the experience before we are ready to take responsibility and action?
There is a gap between the event and the overcoming. In this gap some crazy things can happen. Take the event of stepping in dog poop for example. For me, the moments after stepping in dog poop and before taking care of it are filled with rage and disbelief. A river of thoughts rushes by centered on who besides me is at fault and what a hassle cleaning the mess is going to be. The truth is that finding fault or fretting about the action of fixing the problem are not going to productive in actually fixing the problem. What’s productive is getting the hose, cleaning the shoe, and being more mindful of where I am stepping in the future. Taking responsibility and action. How long after the experience before we are ready to take responsibility and action?
Emotions are indicators for the type of thoughts we are attaching to.
That’s not to say that feeling anger or any emotion is bad. The emotions that come up in any situation are simply indicating how we are processing the experience. The emotions I feel help me discern how much trust I should put into my thoughts in that moment. While I am angry about stepping in poop I am attached to thoughts that no civilized society would want to use as a standard for solving problems. When I am feeling happy and thinking about that experience, the thoughts I am aware of are much more productive. Same exact experience but reflected on from different emotional states. Feeling angry: “What idiot didn’t pick up after their dog!!!” Feeling happy: “Am I not picking up my dog’s poop somewhere in life metaphorically or literally?” From this perspective, awareness of our emotions will offer us a unique freedom to change our relationship to our thought patterns.
Become the watcher.
There is a freedom that comes with increasing our ability to recognize in the moment our emotions and relationship to our thoughts. Without any awareness we are simply reacting to an experience and going through our automated programs. Being able to witness the program play out means that we can eventually start realizing we are only thinking this because we are angry or whatever… this is a powerful truth. I am only thinking this because I am feeling that. That doesn’t change how we will feel at the moment. It will not change the thoughts we are having. But it will change our relationship to the thoughts. By changing the relationship we can begin to change the parts of the programmed cycle of reactions that are not serving us.
Positivity in motion.
With positive thinking we can prepare ourselves as best as possible for the inevitable bumps in the road. In the stepping on poo analogy this would mean we are aware when we are walking through potentially poo-laden areas. Perhaps it includes checking our shoes after we go through one. If there is a real poo leaving epidemic in our neighborhood preparing ourselves may even include working with our local municipality to get poop bag stations strategically put in place and maintained around town. Obviously, depending on how important this issue is we could really devote a lot of energy to preparation.
Preparation, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. Because no matter how well we keep an eye out sometimes we still step dog poop. And when that happens positivity is even more important because it is our greatest guide through the automatic reactions of victimhood back to our true state of awareness and responsibility. Just realizing that we are capable of making this switch indicates that we are thinking positively! So how long do we “need“ to wait before we switch?
The more we work at mindfulness and increasing our awareness the quicker we can make this switch. Sitting in meditation, finding the calmness in our own minds, and becoming a watcher of our feelings & thoughts will lead to a closing of the space between the time we lose our balance and the time we regain it! Just being angry or sad or whatever emotion is traditionally associated with negativity does not mean we have lost our balance. Getting lost in this emotion for too long though does. That length of time is relative to both the individual and the particular experience. Knowing thyself means that we can feel how long remaining in that state is healthy.
We will all step in dog poop again at some point in our lives. We will all experience new suffering on some level. But we are also all capable of digesting that experience in a healthy and timely way. This capability is strengthened through practice. The practice is mindfulness/awareness. It starts with the breath. It never ends.