Once upon a time I was a single mother of an 8 month old child. I worked full-time, and worked hard at being a good mother, sister, and daughter. I remember a particular winter morning going through the routine of getting us both up and dressed for our day: me to work and him to child care, shoveling the driveway (always a challenge with an 8 month old!) and cleaning off the car before we could leave. I caught a glimpse of my neighbors having a cozy breakfast together. They were two adults. They had just adopted a baby. They had a nanny. One of them worked from home but both were able to take time off to be at home with their child. It should have been an inspiring, lovely scene, but my reaction inspired envy and left me feeling grumpy, deflated and feeling that life was “so unfair”.
On my way to drop off my son at my sister’s, who was his caregiver while I went to an office job, I saw a woman with two young children waiting at the bus stop. I imagined maybe she was single also. Maybe her only option was taking a bus to get her children to daycare so she could go to work. Maybe her job was hard and uninspiring and soulless.
It didn’t take long to start feeling ashamed for being cranky about living in a nice house, having a reliable car and being able to take my son to family so I could go to a pretty good job that paid for those things. I remember taking a deep breath, exhaling and letting envy, crankiness, and the “poor me” mentality go. Letting go of the shame took a bit more work.
I didn’t need to feel guilty for having a self-pity moment or for having a home and a car, but I did need that gentle reminder about perspective. That moment came to be a defining one for the rest of my life. It has reminded me to accept that I feel certain things about my life and that I have the capacity to let those feelings go (not saying I always do but I know that I can); to remember that there is always some who have things better and some who have things worse than I do (or at least a perceived better or worse). It allowed me to see that in fact the woman did not, in any way, look unhappy or burdened. Maybe her experience of her situation was entirely different than my assumptions of both.
Our shared experience with Covid-19 is offering us a wide variety of opportunities to practice Perspective. I am grateful for that moment years ago that showed me that I can choose how to respond to this new situation I find myself in. I have a friend who is exhausted because she is working from home in a way she isn’t familiar with and is finding the learning curve a challenge. I could go to, “at least you have a job, I’m currently technically unemployed”. I have another friend who is distressed that she has to take 2 weeks off work because she got a cold. I could go to,”at least you can go back next week, I don’t know when I’ll go back”. Everyone’s experience is valid and everyone can benefit from perspective.
So, I can see my situation from a variety of perspectives. I can feel distressed about the pay I’m losing. I can feel distressed about possibly being at home for quite a while when that is not something I’d choose. I can embrace the isolation and see this time as a gift to get some projects done and maybe read some books. I can enjoy the lack of social obligations and I can enjoy watching the birds outside right now. I can look across my situation spectrum and feel many different things from many different perspectives.
I don’t often quote the Bible, but a verse I have meditated on for over 30 years is Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” I quietly add, “without judgement”. Without judgement for their rejoicing or for my own. Without judgement for their mourning or for my own.
Every day gives us ample opportunity to model the message in that one little verse. If someone is happy, be happy with them and for them. If someone is struggling let them express their struggle–even if you think their situation is better than yours. It will give everyone a chance to breathe. Allow perspective to shift your feelings. After all, that’s part of what yoga gives us….turning upside down offers us a different perspective!
Important: In no way am I saying that if something is harmful in your life or could be made better that you should not take action and simply change your perspective. But, in normal day-to-day living, sometimes a change in perspective can help us enjoy what is there for us right now and ease the negative impact of things we cannot change.