I was looking back over my pictures from my recent visit to Hawaii and this one caught my eye. When I saw it, my initial response was, “Yikes, my age is really starting to show!” Each wrinkle, spot, and bead of sweat seemed terribly glaring. My reaction to this photo matches my reactions to several things these days…
A few years back, I was going through a tough time and things started to feel pretty dark. I decided to take a chance and join a mindfulness group for people dealing with depression and anxiety. It was during this group, that I realized I spend a lot of time in my head with my thoughts running on auto-pilot. Before this experience, I had known the power of thought on an intellectual level, but I had never fully translated this information to a personal experience. The group allowed me to identify that when I am doing poorly, without even noticing, I can spend far too much time having imaginary, angry arguments in my head or perseverating over situations, mistakes, or conversations that had long since passed. This was not only an invaluable lesson for me, but it made the work I would someday do with clients that much more powerful. I wouldn’t just be preaching the practice of mindfulness, I would be speaking from experience as I had benefited from it myself. I knew what it was like to be overrun by what felt like uncontrollable, unbearable thoughts and then experience the freedom that comes with acceptance and being fully present.
For the past couple of years, I have been feeling a bit discouraged about my chosen career path. I did not research as diligently as I probably should have before moving to California and I had no idea how tough life still was for clinical counselors in this state. It is uncertain if this knowledge would have ultimately changed my decision about the move, but it still would have been nice to know what I was getting myself into. That’s why it was so therapeutic for me to attend the American Counseling Association Conference and Expo that was just recently hosted in San Francisco. To be surrounded by so many people who share such passion and knowledge of my field was a gift. Beyond that, it was a reminder that I chose this path for a reason and people are doing incredible things with degrees like mine all over the country (even though most people have no clue who we are and what we do in California). During one of the keynotes, Jessica Pettitt, made a statement that was perhaps the most poignant for me and has stuck even though some time has passed. The statement was, “being mad at someone for doing exactly what you thought they would do is dumb.” I went to the conference to learn skills to bring back to my clients, but what I found was a reminder to myself. I’ve spent a lot of time being mad lately. Mad at people for their actions, mad at God for His seeming inaction, mad at life for the ways I felt it was supposed to go, but it hasn’t… Now, I don’t have any objection to anger. Over time I’ve learned to express it quite freely and believe its expression can be a powerful source of healing. However, constant or entirely unfounded anger is just wasteful of both energy and time. It could become very easy for me to get stuck in that anger… to feel I’m entitled to that job, that house, that relationship, that church, that family… I could wallow in sadness and bitterness for ages, but I think I’d like to try gratitude instead.
Let’s bring things back to that picture… I’m pretty angry I’m having another birthday next month and I’m even more angry that my face looks like it’s having a birthday next month. However, if I spend my time fixating on every line and wrinkle, what I’d miss is the beauty of the fact that I physically, mentally, and financially had the capacity to do a trail run in Hawaii. Who complains about a trail run in Hawaii?! So while in reality there are a lot of things to be hurt, angry, and sad about, there are also unlimited things to be thankful for… the friends who text me to check in no matter how near or far they live, the ones who call and say they are here for whatever, whenever I need them, the community of people that share my faith and pray for me or spur me on when I’m confused or feel like giving up, those who value my opinion and ask me for support or advice, the job that pays my bills even when it doesn’t fulfill all my dreams, the landlords who love on me in ways I would never expect, the chances to travel for work and for pleasure, and the kind words from those who know me best that remind me of who I am and what my value is… Thank you. You know exactly who you are. Yes, you… And I just want to say that in this season when there is a whole lot to be angry about, you are one of the fabulous reasons there are countless things to be thankful for.