‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
Viktor E. Frankl
If you haven’t read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, then I highly recommend reading it. Viktor Frankl (1905 – 1997) was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and a Holocaust survivor. His book describes his time in concentration camps and his observation that even under the most distressing of conditions it was possible to still choose one’s attitude. For the foreseeable future, we have all lost some of the freedom we once enjoyed and took for granted. Whilst none of us know exactly how long these measures will be taken, there is nothing to stop us from choosing our attitude to whatever we face.
What are you choosing?
What springs to mind is the quote from John Milton, ‘the mind is its own place, and can create a heaven of hell, a heaven of hell.’ We have been so used to needing external people, situations, and things, to lift our mood and mindset. It is proving a huge realisation for many people, of just how much we have relied on our external world to help us to feel the way we wish to feel.
But what if we had the tools to be able to find all that we seek to feel in our outer world from our very own inner world?
Being able to find peace, joy and fulfilment within doesn’t mean we won’t still enjoy experiencing them from external sources – it just means we are not reliant on them to find those feelings. Such is the potential of learning to master our own internal state.
That doesn’t mean that we won’t still experience difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences – it means that we choose to own our response when we experience them. We decide our attitude to life’s ups and downs. We decide who we want to be when we are in joy, as well as who we want to be when we are suffering.
Without doubt, these current times are squeezing who we are to the surface. The effectiveness of the tools we use to navigate life is being highlighted.
I see the current times as a great opportunity to learn to:
Let difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions pass through us without denying them or attaching to them.
There will be many suppressed thoughts and feelings surfacing at this time, and this is a good thing. They are coming up for release. Let them pass through you without needing to do anything with them. Breathe through them. All things pass.
Observe any recurrent patterns through the eyes of non-judgement.
If we pay attention, we will notice any recurrent patterns that keep showing up in our life, and if we can look at these through the eyes of compassion and non-judgement we will gain valuable insight in doing so. Perhaps we notice that we get triggered by certain situations – what is it about these that we still need to learn from? What have we yet to heal? Where are we lacking trust in ourselves?
When we are judging another, what is it in ourself that we are refusing to see and accept? I can honestly say that for me personally when I find myself disliking or judging another, there is always something in myself that I am either not wanting to see, just haven’t seen, or I am in denial about. If I sit in non-judgemental curiosity around this, I usually get insight into what that aspect is and having seen it I am given the opportunity to try to shift that way of being; to grow beyond previous fears and limitations. The outer world so often mirrors our internal one.
Choose to be the change we wish to see in the outer world, as Gandhi so wisely said.
As we move forwards through much uncertainty, we will all choose who we are being as we do so. Like many, I have loved seeing the way so many of us have come together to support each other and look after each other. So many have been going above and beyond in their levels of generosity and kindness. That is exactly who we have the potential to choose to be, even under difficult circumstances. We can’t choose for other people to be that though, we can only choose it for ourselves. We can be the change we wish to see.
Let go of judging what anyone else is or isn’t doing.
There will be a lot of different people choosing a lot of different responses to our ongoing situation, for all sorts of different reasons. None of us know exactly what another is experiencing in the way they are experiencing it. That lovely saying of ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ only goes so far, because it is, after all, us putting ourselves in their shoes and seeing their world through our eyes as we would think, feel and be in it. But we are not in their shoes, they are. I find myself always needing to be on the lookout for where I am judging another because of what I might do in their situation and over the years I have learnt that it serves nobody to do that. Empathy is one thing, having true compassion and understanding is another….and in my experience it’s sometimes much easier said than done, but greater peace comes from being able to do so, or at least try to do so.
Focus our thoughts, time and energy on what’s in our control, and let go of that which isn’t.
Life is so much simpler if we learn to do this. It is infinitely less stressful too. Learning to accept the things that are beyond our control frees us up to be proactive in putting our energy into that which we can affect. That is perhaps one of the most productive and efficient things we can learn to do, as well as recognising the freedom we have in being able to do something about our own internal world – which is always something we can affect.
Choose to be solution orientated.
Learning to accept a problem as it is and then choosing to proactively
identify and work towards the solution we want. For example, if someone is in debt or financial difficulties; facing the reality of that and getting financial advice on what the best way to approach it is – and then putting it into action. Or, if someone has the tendency to worry; accepting that has been a pattern and then looking into methods to help them to re-focus when they find themselves on a worry loop. Identifying a proactive way to overcome that way of thinking and then putting the effort into practising the tools that can help them. If someone finds themselves in the unfortunate position of being made redundant; facing the financial implications of that and looking into finding a new job – even if that means a temporary alternate job just to put food on the table whilst they keep looking for a more long term solution.
The current challenges we face offer every single one of us the opportunity to practice our self-mastery skills. That might mean that we need help from others in doing so, but it does mean that each of us can step up and empower ourselves to take responsibility for every thought, word, choice and action we take.
We can choose to take responsibility for our own choices, no matter what.
We can choose to be responsible for what we think, no matter what.
We can choose to be responsible for how we feel, no matter what.
We can choose to look after our own wellbeing, no matter what.
So let me finish with a reminder of Viktor Frankl’s encouraging words, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
We can choose to be kind, no matter what.
We can choose love, even when we feel fear.