By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
Today’s culture driven by the rush of technology and 24/7 access is one that promotes a “get-‘er done” mentality. We pride ourselves on how productive we can be and how quickly we can check items off our to-do list. We can order online and have our products delivered the same day (or hour, in some cases). We get irritated, both figuratively and literally, when we don’t make good time or get “stuck” behind someone who isn’t in as much of a hurry as we are. We cram as much as we can — whether it’s multi-tasking or binge-watching — into a day. But this rush to “efficiency” leads me to a question: by taking this approach and needing to be in control all the time, are we missing the life lessons that might come from the universe?
Trust me, I do get the concept of being in control. I have been a driven Type A professional who could push my agenda with the best of them. Just ask my colleagues and former team members. However, as I’ve reached middle age, I find myself learning to listen for the life lessons when things don’t go my way on my timeline.
Seeing Things in a Different Light
While there were hints from the universe earlier in my crammed-to-the-brim life, I was too busy to see them. My awareness started in 2001. In August of that year, our area received a record deluge of rain – and almost every room in my house flooded. The damage required that my home had to have all the carpet removed. And because so many people in my area were affected, the delay to install the new flooring was significant. Therefore, I was forced to carefully dodge exposed tackboards while walking around my home.
It would have been easy to have gotten really worked up about this delay. However, everything was put into perspective a short time later as I watched the events of September 11 unfold in real time. I stood glued to the television next to a co-worker who had a friend who worked at the time in the World Trade Center towers. I focused on helping my colleague remain calm as she tried unsuccessfully to reach her friend. (We found out a day or so later that the friend was safe.)
As the world returned to some semblance of normal, I quickly realized that I was being offered one of the most important life lessons. In the grand scheme of things, the flood in my house was just an inconvenience while the events of 9/11 were a crisis. That lesson quickly sunk in and I no longer get worked up by inconvenient but trivial experiences that happen regularly in life. And I also understand the importance of showing up for people during the truly challenging times of life.
In September 2016, my dad started having a string of trips to the emergency room. He had been treated by a group of doctors at a particular health care system and he was sent to that system’s hospital for the first two middle-of-the-night trips. However, his third trip to the emergency room took him to an out-of-network hospital.
I have to admit that I was extremely frustrated by this snafu. The ER doctor didn’t know my dad’s history and it took a while for him to get a handle on Dad’s deteriorating health situation. The decision was made to admit Dad to this hospital, again placing us in a new and unfamiliar environment. I tried to manage this situation as best I could, but found myself stymied by many issues. However, I kept hearing from the hospital staff that Dad was improving and would get out of the hospital soon.
“Soon” keep getting extended and eight days later, we were beginning to have discussions about quality of life vs. quantity of life. I sincerely wished that my dad, who was in the last stages of congestive heart failure, was back with his in-network doctors as we struggled with these end-of-life decisions. However, I also felt that there must be a reason that my best attempts at trying to manage this situation were being frustrated.
Eventually, the hidden gift emerged. In 2015, my dad had grown close to the social worker at the long-term care facility where he lived. During a transitional time, we lost touch with her and weren’t sure where she was. It turns out that her new job was as an oncology social worker at the out-of-network hospital. She happened to attend the larger palliative care team meeting where she saw Dad’s name on the list and she reconnected with me by phone later that morning. A week later, she stopped by to see my dad (who by this point was in Hospice) on the last night of his life. I truly believe this error in transport actually put Dad back in touch with one of the people he most wanted to see before he died.
Listening in a Different Way
My last example is a more recent occurrence. Early this year, my vision started to become foggy. I made an appointment in late February with the eye doctor and learned that I had developed a cataract in my dominant eye. I also learned that this type of cataract can come up in a few months’ time. I believe its emergence was triggered by the stress of caregiving for my father in his final years.
My previous Type A approach would have had me shopping for doctors to get this situation taken care of as soon as possible. However, I really like and trust my doctor so I decided to wait. I finally had a consultation with the eye surgeon in late April. He told me I was a candidate for an early surgery. However, I wasn’t able to do so because I had already committed to attending a meditation workshop on Sheng Zhen that included a 10-day teacher training seminar.
In driving to Austin for the training, I realized how compromised my vision – my primary way of learning — had become. I entered the training rather stressed about my inability to see the seminar leader clearly, even while sitting on the second row. My secondary way of learning – my hearing – also was put to the test since the workshop leader, who is originally from China, wasn’t totally fluent in English.
I bumbled my way through the early part of the training and felt my stress levels escalating. Finally, mid-way through I started realizing that my sensory issues might actually be an opportunity instead of a challenge. I needed to focus on listening from the heart, which is in alignment with Sheng Zhen’s focus on unconditional love. In doing so, I found myself sensing the emotions of the people around me and was able to increasingly be present in my interactions with them.
My cataract surgery is scheduled before the end of June. While I am frustrated by my inability to see clearly, I now realize that this fuzzy state is only temporary – and that it opened up a new window of how to live a more caring life.
Based on these experiences, here’s my advice to you – become more open to the u-turns and detours that life throws at you. Realize that there may be a reason when things don’t immediately go your way. These situations can offer life lessons that may help you live a richer and more authentic life.