by Sean Grover
Don’t underestimate how your outlook colors the world you see.
There’s a farmers’ market in Union Square park just down the street from my office. Every Saturday, it springs to life with shiny red apples, bright green peppers, homemade cakes and pies, potted plants and fresh-cut flowers. The eager crowds greedily gobble up the market’s offerings like children on Christmas morning.
I’m searching for flowers for a friend’s birthday when an elderly lady, waving her cane and shouting, approaches a vender. Soon, she’s face-to-face with the poor fellow. It seems almost certain she will hit him.
“These flowers have no smell!” She yells in accusatory tones.
“Don’t ‘Mam’ me! Look!”
She plunges her nose into several blossoms and inhales violently.
“No smell at all!”
And she’s right. However, she doesn’t realize that the flowers she smelled—petunias, impatience, marigolds—don’t have any aroma. They never have.
The kind vender smiles gently and begins to explain:
“Mam,’ these flowers have no scent. If you step over here…”
“No scent?” That’s ridiculous! When I was a child every flower had a scent!”
Before he could direct her to the scented flowers, she stomps off and disappears into the crowd. Had she taken the time to listen to him and walked just a few feet to her left, she would have discovered the wild fragrances of roses, lilacs, and other aromatic delights. Instead, trapped by her negative perceptions, she left bitter and anger.
I wonder how often in life our negative attitude blinds us to the solutions we seek? When we’re guided by such distortions, it’s like we’re playing a game of “The Wheel of Misfortune.” No matter how we spin it, it always comes up negative. Then even smelling flowers becomes distressing.
As a psychotherapist, I often struggle to free myself and my patients from clinging to deluded views. When we project our negative experiences and critical judgments from the past onto the present, we make an error in time. Dominated by such negative projections, we generate our own sufferings. We fail to find value in others or in ourselves. What’s worse, the longer we dwell in our negative projections, the more they become a way of life.
The first step in reversing an attitude of chronic disappointment begins with taking full responsibility for the emotional condition of your life. Self-examination in therapy can be grueling, but you’re likely to discover that the hardships that plague are the products of your own history, fears, self-image, and outlook.
A million years ago my three-year-old daughter began potty training. As parents know, potty training, like a summer blockbuster movie, is a tempestuous endeavor, fraught with triumph and despair. Not to mention late night “accidents” and the endless washing and changing of pajamas and sheets.
Early one morning, she ventured into the bathroom alone. Moments later I heard her yell out:
“Poppa! Come quickly!”
Immediately I thought the worst; she wet her pants. Maybe she wet the floor. Perhaps she wet everything except what was supposed to be wet. We were running late and I skipped breakfast in exchange for a few more minutes of sleep. I was ready to pounce on her. Unaware, I was initiating my own game of “Wheel of Misfortune” by expecting the worst.
“What is it?” I shouted back. “What’s the matter?”
“Come quick!” She explained, “My poop. It’s…fantastic!”
My wife, my older daughter, and I burst into giggles. As we all piled into the bathroom to view the fantastic poop, we applauded and hugged her.
The lesson I learned? Cultivating an open mind and a playful spirit allows me to find joy in ordinary moments. When I strive to appreciate everything, even struggles and hardships become less burdensome. But when I fail to recognize my own negativity and blame the world for my disappointments, there’s little hope for me; a more rewarding life will remain forever beyond my reach.
In the end, when you commit to a life of continuous self-improvement you choose to walk the path of enlightenment.
So you folks out there clinging to negative projections (and you know who you are), don’t underestimate the power of your outlook and how it colors the world you see. It can make flowers into failures or turn a morning poop into something “Fantastic!” www.seangrover.com