little big things

little big things - scallop shell in sand on a sunny beach - The Best Advice So Far

My last blog entry was posted over a month ago. It’s not for lack of trying, I just haven’t been able to write. I don’t mean to say that I’ve been too busy to write; I mean that I haven’t been able to write.

Shortly after I wrote that last post, I was in a car accident. The short version is that I wound up being ambulanced to the nearest hospital with neck and back immobility, a skull-wracking migraine and loss of peripheral vision. I was terrified that it was going to be a repeat of 2007 and the accident that left me incapacitated for more than six months. Fortunately, after about five days in bed, my neck and back righted themselves and, though the headaches have persisted, they’ve been intermittent and manageable.

The aftermath of this particular ball of wax has also included fatigue, insomnia and a record-breaking stretch of nightmares. This morning, I woke up from my two or so hours of sleep with my heart racing. Some end-of-the-world-meets-mind-control number this time.

Do I sound like I’m kvetching? I’m not meaning to. I’ve tried to keep it to the basics, but it’s important that I set the scene.

As I said at the start of this post, I haven’t been able to write. I’ve set aside time to write. I’ve done all the right things to set myself up for success to write. But the sheer fact of the matter was that, circumstances being what they’ve been, my brain was just not able to focus, and no amount of discipline was going to change that for the time being.

If you’ve read my book, The Best Advice So Far, or have been making yourself comfortable here on my blog for any time at all, you’ll be well familiar with the central credo:

You always have a choice.

I use the word “credo” here, because I want to focus on a particular point: that this is more than a motivational platitude for me. It’s a core belief, a guiding force in my life, and it is at the heart of any advice I may share with others along the way.

best advice so far - you always have a choice - tweetable

However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  It’s a guiding force, yes, but a force to be reckoned with all the same.

As I sat again last week in front of an empty page for the third week in a row, I felt it happen. My heart was pounding. My chest felt tight, like I couldn’t get a full breath. An acrid tingle crept around the back of my jaw. At first, I thought it was yet another manifestation of general weirdness from the accident; but after a few minutes, I recognized it for what it was.

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In a word, what I felt was resentment.

I felt angry. I felt pressured, like I was being forced to the narrow end of a funnel. I felt robbed by yet another situation beyond my control in what seemed from where I sat like quite a long chain of them.

But as I felt that resentment seeping into my soul, threatening to take over, I managed to counter it with a moment of focused silence and reflection.  And as countless times before, in that space I had created, the voice of my own advice came back to me:

Life is not fair.
The sooner you accept this,
the happier you will be. 
(CH 5)

The Best Advice So Far: Life is not fair. The sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.

You have to start from where you are,
not from where you wish you were. 
(CH 4)

The Best Advice So Far: You have to start from where you are, not from where you wish you were.

In fact, in the very first chapter of The Best Advice So Far – the same chapter which holds as its central advice “You always have a choice – I am careful to add this:

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we get to choose everything that happens to us in life. We do not choose abuse, for instance, and we can at no time choose to undo those things which have happened to us in life.

We do not choose illness. We do not choose when or how the people we love will leave us. Or die.

We do, however, have the choice of how we will respond in every situation, even the hurtful ones. Instead, so often, we pour our frustration and anger into those things we cannot change, rather than investing that energy into the many choices that we can make from that point forward.

You see, I had been feeling like my choices had all been stolen from me. Yet in actuality, I was fixated on only one choice that was outside my ability to make at that moment. True, I could not write. But there were countless other choices that I could still make – even in my current state. In fact, I had already made one, in deciding not to give in to the rising tide of resentment, but rather to clear some space for a centering moment.

I got up from my desk and began to walk.

I may not have been able to write, but walking was a choice I could make.

Soon, I began to look at the accident differently.  I could walk. Others who’d been brought to the ER the day I was there were not so fortunate.

In the living room and sitting room, I noticed for the first time (yes, in May) that I still had a few straggling Christmas decorations out.  Wicker stars hung on window latches. A ceramic snowman with a yarn scarf defied melting on my piano. A classic Winnie-the-Pooh sat atop a bookshelf, masquerading as Saint Nick.

One by one, I packed them up and tucked them away with the rest of the ornaments and trimmings until next Season.

This was a choice I could make.

With the winter things in storage, the heavy white stack candle in the middle of the square white coffee table seemed ponderous and mournful. I packed that away, as well. From the bathroom, I pulled a few sea shells from a bowl, a few pieces of sea glass from another container. I rummaged through my chest of candles and retrieved some small silver geometric holders and placed tea lights in them.

Bringing a bit of summer to my space was a choice I could make.

I opened some windows and invited in the warm breeze. The sheer white curtains danced for the first time since I’d put them up last November, after I moved in.

Opening windows was a choice I could make.

I dusted away some cobwebs from ceiling corners.

I cleaned the two or three dishes that lay in the sink.

I replaced low-wattage light bulbs with higher-wattage natural ones, trading orange and dingy for a room-altering dose of bright and sunny.

I carefully coiled an unused and unsightly black cable that poked through low on a wall and lay in a scraggle beside the couch, pinning it neatly out of sight.

It was surprising just how many choices I could make, once I set my mind to it.

I’d love to be able to tell you that once these small choices had been made, my mind and creativity opened up. I’d love to report that I rushed to my computer where furious fingers flew across the keyboard resulting in this post.

I’d love to tell you this was the way it happened. But that would be a lie.

In reality, the choices I’d made were admittedly little things. Yet each one, in its own way, began to brighten my living space – and my “inside space.”

I did not write that day. But I lit the candles and sat in my living room, which now felt refreshingly “beachy.” I enjoyed the breeze.  I breathed.  My heart rate was no longer up.  I was out of the self-imposed pressure funnel and feeling peaceful.

The next day was a bit better.

And the next.

And here I am, back to writing once again.

More proof (at least to myself) that happiness is a choice, as is misery ( CH 2 READ IT NOW, FREE).

The Best Advice So Far: Happiness is a choice.

You don’t get to choose everything in life all the time. But it remains true, that “you always have a choice.”

I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a glimpse into how that has looked for me lately.

If you find yourself focusing right now on the parts of life over which you have no control, why not take a deep breath and look around you for the “little big things” you can choose to change.

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