There’s a poem that tells, “People come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”
A fellow customer — a gentleman I don’t know and will likely never cross paths with again — whom I saw in a small store the other day definitely falls into the “reason” category. When a store employee greeted the gentleman with the typical, “Hi, how are you,” the seemingly troubled customer quickly replied, “We can just skip over that,” and proceeded to describe what he was shopping for.
While some may have seen the man’s response as rude, it delighted me.
I’m often troubled by the “How are you” question because it usually expects a quick, positive reply. Especially for people experiencing a loss, this expectation makes it near-impossible to answer honestly, putting us in a situation where we can either be disingenuous or honest at the expense of the polite tone.
So, when this random man replied in an honest, quick way without getting into any of his troublesome “stuff,” I couldn’t help identifying. I had never heard that reply and it’s one I think is beneficial for grievers (or anyone for that matter) to have at their disposal.
Witnessing that interaction provides a clear reason why that man appeared on my path. Because of its impact, I believe the reason might stay with me for a lifetime.
“One day honey, one day onions.”
That’s a saying that comes from the Sufi tradition (originally: “yom ’asal, wa yom basal”). The teaching reminds us that, when we’re going through bitter days/moments (onion), it means sweet days/moments (honey) will soon come.
Neuroscience tells us that regularly reminding our brains of helpful truths like “honey and onions” can have transformative effects on our default thought processes. And in a culture that leads us to believe that we’re supposed to experience mostly honey, those defaults are often non-healing — self-doubt, self-reproach, self-pity.
The only way to override such defaults is by regular practice and rehearsal. Repeating maxims like “honey and onions” on a daily basis actually helps rewire neural pathways that have been conditioned to produce negative thoughts.
Now, when I approach my honey states, I’m fully aware that I wouldn’t appreciate them nearly as much if I hadn’t first gotten a taste of (or really, a cry from) onions.
No doubt, that’s a healthy recipe to default to!
No one likes to deal with challenging people. But challenging interactions are inevitable. When they happen, how can we cut through our anxiety and frustration to find peace of mind?
When they happen in my life, I think of something my first “mom friend” said to me when we were commiserating over the struggles of early motherhood: “We make it harder because we don’t cut corners.”
Whether or not she realized it, her wisdom applies to so many aspects of life.
Sixteen years later, I’m still not great at cutting corners, but I have learned a quick way to cut through my “noisy” mind when dealing with challenging people. I will try to say it in words, but Alexander Milov’s famous sculpture (pictured below), featured at Burning Man in 2015, says it best.
Art speaks to each of us differently. To me, especially when I deal with difficult people, this sculpture says, “See the child in them.”
When we view each other as adult bodies carrying around (wounded) children, it becomes easier to find the points of LOVE — Milov’s title for this piece.
We mothers heal through our children, but the same healing is available to anyone who can cut through the noise of the adult world, and listen to the childlike signals within.