Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.
Those Monotonous Life Inventories
How much is left there to be enjoyed of life?
This question, or some other form of it, may be merely attached to a passing mood, or it may keep hanging in the air as a sensitive bell so easily disturbed by every aspect of a predictable life.
Especially so in those moments while we are making one of those inventories of life, fishing through the memory albums for something that would be worth reviving. When we find it, it hardly serves as a consolation, but rather as a painful reminder about how much life can degrade over years.
To the rescue may come a notion how this "steadiness" of life at least provides a sense of security and certainty, as opposed to those crazy younger times when passions, ambition, and strife where making of us something like a puppet on a string.
A little sigh comes, and we are not quite sure if it's a sigh of a relief or still a sigh of nostalgic reminiscing about something better back there.
Friends are not much help. The older the friendship, the more their own sameness of life just adds to our own; and on a certain evenings we may catch ourselves not answering the phone. Well, we don't really have a stomach to hear yet another episode of "a confrontation with an obnoxious daughter-in-law", or "what the doctor said about that pain in the knee at the recent visit".
Of course, by now we seem to have become veterans at this struggle with often maddening predictability of life, which has become one huge routine. A paperback novel may do, and there is always something to watch on TV.
And if our kids allow us, we can even meddle a bit in their "situations" offering our wisdom, while they may be nice enough to pretend how they are appreciating it. That combination of kids, novels, TV, computer, phone gossiping, provide for a little escape into someone else's life where there is more going on.
If not more, then at least another version of boring than we are used to. Now, not to forget the old, good apothecary -- the fridge -- which always has a ready balsam for our boredom, anger, sadness, and worries, and anything else from our crappy emotional repertoire.
Well, gone are those mornings, when in front of our bathroom mirror we were tempted to send a victorious wink to that image. Now it boils down to sticking our tongue out to check how white it is, for a possible body's fight with a microbial intruder.
Encouraging ourselves for facing another day with a wide smile is completely out of question, because we don't want to scare ourselves with that map of wrinkles caused by smiling.
But, maybe at no other time of the day, morning routine feels like such a blessing -- sparing us from having to think with those groggy minds what's next to be done. That way we just go through the motions of it, not caring much if the whole life has become more or less exactly that -- going through some series of predictable motions.
Tempted to Disturb That (Dis)Comfort Zone
If you are still with me, that means that you are patiently waiting for me to change my tune with something that would justify the title of this post.
Well, nothing of what has been said so far relates in any way to my own life -- however, a need for such an introduction will become obvious when we come to the theme of empathy.
But we are not there yet. At this point it would be good to think of those daring moods when some strange ideas might pop up in our head, to be instantly felt as a threat to our comfort zone.
Like, finally losing some of those excess pounds; or changing hair style, even its color; or getting a dog; or cutting into life savings and finally taking that long postponed trip. Or, if nothing else, maybe just rearranging the furniture might create that big change in life.
Boy, do we ever feel silly at the end of such thinking, and we make sure that an end to it comes before it might, god-forbid, gain a dangerous momentum.
Now, at one time or another, you must have run into that mantra of self-help genre, or it might have been an advice from a well meaning friend: "Count your blessings, not your curses".
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? And it might sound even better, if anybody cared to explain to us -- how the hell to "appreciate" something if we don't like it. Over the years we have become so proficient at hating things, from weather, to politics, to lack of good TV programs, to the neighbor's yuppy old dog that refuses to croak -- that it has spread over even some of those neutral and good things of life.
As if our brain got stuck in a groove of disliking, so it keeps feeding that attitude with just about anything that comes across.
So really, how do we manage to like something while we have lost the very capacity for liking?
And why are we even disturbing our well played in crappy praxis of life with these notions of something better being possible?
Empathizing to the Rescue
Sometimes it takes tricking our minds a little -- which is only fair, considering how it keeps playing all kinds of nasty tricks on us throughout our lives.
So we have to somehow produce that feeling of appreciation, without bluntly lying to ourselves with a parrot-like repetitions of positive affirmations.
Now, if someone bought you a toy car for your 50th birthday, you would be right to get insulted. But try to remember the face of the kid to whom you bought a toy car for his birthday. What happened with your feelings about that little toy while you were empathizing with that kid's enthusiasm?
It was the same toy in question, but empathizing made such a huge difference in how you felt about it.
You saw it with the kid's eyes.
And all chances are that even your face was mimicking the expression of that boy's surprise and excitement.
Now, how could any of that be of some help? Thinking in terms of empathy, how about imagining an admiration, maybe even an envy, on a face of someone unfortunate who wished to have what you have. Could you empathize with that? Could you see what you have with their eyes?
Can you move around your place without a wheelchair, a cane, or even being helped? Could you empathize with such a person as they are watching you how swiftly you are moving around?
How about seeing things in their relative value, and putting a big price on whatever you've got at this time of your life? So look around yourself with fresh eyes, even take that brave look in the mirror, and see all that with admiring eyes of someone who might wish they had it.
Just like with that toy car, that has no value to you at this age, but meant so much to that kid -- what would those unfortunate and needy persons see in your world that you cannot see?
Possible Losing It Sets Its True Value
There is that old life truism that we don't know how much we have until we lose it. Here it gives us another little trick to use so that we spontaneously feel appreciation for what we have.
Indeed, just by imagining, say, losing your eyesight, gives you an idea how well off you are by still being able to see. Or, imagining losing a dear person, who is still around in your life, tells you how lucky you are to still have them.
Some time ago, our son, now in his early fifties, tall and strong, six foot man with greyish hair and beard, came from work straight to our place, and right at the front door gave his mother a bear hug, tears rolling down his face.
He stayed like that for an extended moment not leaving his mother from his embrace, before with a shaking voice telling us how his good friend and coworker's mother had passed away, and he empathized so strongly that he couldn't wait to see his mom healthy and well.
My vision got blurry as I was witnessing that, and I only noticed those were my own tears of empathy as I was wiping them off.
So, could empathy help us at understanding the title of this post a little better? How much is left to be enjoyed in life really depends on how much we value what we have. For then we may see ourselves in a completely different theater of life, where no drama, no tragedy, not even a soap opera is being played on its repertoire.
And with all other players still around, we could improvise our own version of a happy story -- being a main actor, and a clapping audience at the same time.
© 2021 Val Karas