“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next.
Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.”
February 25. The long awaited day was here. I had planned this yoga retreat in Costa Rica more than 8 months ago. Actually, the idea had been churning since the last retreat I ran over a year earlier. I booked my flight 3 months ahead of time, then waited out a harsh winter. We had about a dozen lovely participants attending the retreat and I booked myself into the resort a couple of extra days in advance to settle in and prepare myself to welcome the group.
Yet, on the morning of February 25, I woke up to a message from the airline saying that my flight had been cancelled. What? Cancelled. After nearly an hour of being put on hold, I discovered that snow in Atlanta, Georgia was responsible for grounding the second leg of my flight and I had been transferred to the same flight the following day.
Some time ago, at the beginning of a yoga class I was teaching at my studio in Barrie, a few students and I were discussing situations just like this. How does one respond when so-called “bad” or unexpected—or more specifically, when “unwanted”—situations, occur? Well, I don’t propose to have the right or the best answer, but I do have a strategy which I shared in class that day.
I realized a long time ago that when something happens, I always have a choice. This realization might stem back to my lifeguarding days when how I responded actually meant life or death. The dozens upon dozens of times I witnessed a person in the early stages of drowning in my lifeguarding career was not the time to let panic take over. When things happen, we all have emotions and natural, physical responses that kick-in quickly. Sometimes these responses are warranted—they give us the adrenaline rush and the animal instinct we need to actually save ourselves or another person. But sometimes these responses are unhelpful or even dangerous—including road rage, violence, unwarranted aggression, speaking harshly or critically, or over-reacting. We all have default patterns that arise when we get triggered by something because biologically we are hard-wired for life or death, fight or flight, eat or be eaten. Yet, we don’t live in the wild anymore and these reactions are not necessary, or helpful the majority of the time. Part of what it means to be emotionally and psychologically healthy (think—inner equivalent of physical health) is having the ability to regulate our emotional state. Meaning, that when something happens, we can attend to ourselves, calm ourselves down, and respond clearly rather than react.
I made a decision a long time ago that when unwanted things happened I wanted to respond in a way that would create the most ease, calm, and positive feelings in my body, as I could. When I found out my flight got cancelled this morning, the first thing I did was slip my attention below the multitude of thoughts swirling in my head, and notice my emotional reaction. A slight sense of panic, some frustration, and even a bit of anger. Okay. That was okay. I am okay. Take a few breaths. Reassure myself. Say some nice and loving words to myself. No one is hurt, you are healthy; this is not the worst thing that could be happening right now. Wait until my body calms down and I am feeling clear again. Then, stop and think. What is going to be the most helpful thing to do right now? Calmly proceed and find out what is going on with my flight and when I can get rebooked.
An hour later, I was re-booked onto my new flight (the following day), and I unexpectedly had 24 more hours of sitting at home before I left. And realistically, I also had 24 less hours of personal time in Costa Rica before the retreat began. That sucked. Yet, here I was at another crossroads where I had a decision to make. What did I want to choose to focus on? I could focus on the 24 hours less I had in Costa Rica and how disappointed and frustrated I felt… and the more I focused on it, the worse those feelings got! Or, I could focus on the 24 hours I unexpectedly had at home. 24 hours… where no one knew I was there. No phone calls, no e-mails, no texts… because everyone thought I was flying to Costa Rica. What I did have was a to-do list of things I had to work on during the retreat, and another list of things I hadn’t finished prior to my trip and was planning to do when I got back. How many times had I wished for more hours in the day? An extra day in the week? Well, here it was (be careful what you wish for, right?)…
I had a secret day before me—a day where nobody knew I was here and I wasn’t expected to be anywhere else. I had a whole day and night in front of me where I could do whatever I wanted. I did actually contemplate having a spa day, or going to do something fun for myself; but I realized that the future-me (the one who still had school work to do in Costa Rica, a retreat to plan, and a moderate sized to-do list once she got home from the retreat), would like the current-me a lot better if I made her life easier. So I took the whole day and crossed things off my list to make the next few weeks a whole lot easier on myself. And I actually had a bit of fun doing it!
The next time you find things going wrong, pause. Notice your emotions and body sensations underneath your initial reaction. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself, take some deep breaths and allow yourself a few moments to settle inside. Remind yourself, that this is (probably) not the end of the world, and that everything is going to be okay. This (likely) isn’t the worst thing that could happen, and you will move through it. Consider what it is that you hope to cultivate in your life. What kind of experience would you like to have now? How can you respond (rather than react) to this situation in the best way you know how? What decisions could you make now, to bring the most ease and lightness to yourself? Rather than fighting with your reactive self and making the situation worse, pause, extend some kindness to yourself, take a few moments to settle, then work towards collaborating with the part of you that has the ability to respond effectively, and make decisions that will lead to the best possible outcome.