I’m organizing some of the maxims I use for teaching our upcoming course on A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness. One of my favorites is:
Just make the best of the situation at this very moment
There is really great wisdom in this teaching. Our life passes by, moment by moment, but how often does the moment meet our expectations? How often are the conditions “ideal” according to our own desires and preferences? If we cultivate the talent of making the best of our situation at this moment, then we’re doing whatever we can to accept the situation and find something valuable, meaningful or joyful in that situation.
Many years ago I was playing basketball with my twelve year old daughter, Abbie. We had the whole gym to ourselves, because all the other players had left. We played a game called “two bounce.” Essentially, this is how the game is played. One player shoots. If they score, they get points. If they miss, the other player has to get the ball, but they have to wait until it bounces twice on the floor. If you touch the ball before it bounces twice, or if you allow it to bounce more than twice, than you lose your turn. After the ball bounces twice, you grab the ball and then you have to shoot from that spot. If you make the shot, you get points. If you miss, the other player faces the same challenge – waiting for the ball to bounce twice and then shooting from that spot.
This is a wonderful game about how to live your life.
First, you have no control over the other player. Whether they make or miss their shots – there’s nothing you can really do about that. But if they miss, you have to be paying attention so you’re ready to go after the ball. Sometimes the ball just rolls off the rim and you let it bounce twice and now you’re standing right next to the basket – an easy shot.
But sometimes it hits the rim with great force and bounces away quickly and by the time it has bounced twice it is 25 feet from the basket. It can bounce so far away that you can’t even throw the ball far enough to hit any part of the basket.
And if it lands 30 feet away, you just laugh about it and maybe you throw it like a baseball and just try to hit something. And then your opponent laughs and you laugh and now you’re having fun, despite the fact that you’re losing. So this is really a game about making the best of the situation at any given moment.
Can you see how this resembles our lives? Things happen that are beyond our control and we find ourselves in a particular spot, facing a difficult and possibly unpleasant challenge. So what can we do?
Well, sometimes we can change the situation. That’s great, if you can do it. But in some cases, all we can do is make the best of our situation at that moment. So we accept the conditions of our life and we concentrate and do our best to address the situation we face. And sometimes there is nothing to do but laugh at ourselves and just do something silly. If we’re lucky, the game will continue and we’ll have another chance from another spot. Even if we’re frustrated or in despair, we should be grateful that we’re able to play the game.
I once heard of a naturalist who deeply loved trees. She said she admired trees because they really had no choice about where they get planted. A seed lands somewhere and germinates and a tree begins to grow. Some trees end up in a great spot – with good soil, lots of sun, and no other trees crowding them.
But periodically, I see trees that are growing out of a crack in a cliff. I usually think, “Wow, how did that tree manage to grow out of that little crack between two rocks. That’s amazing.” But what else can the tree do but try its best to grow in the conditions it is given. It doesn’t complain or get angry or say “why me?” or “it’s just not fair.” We can learn a lot from trees.
The next time you find yourself in an unfavorable situation – one that disappoints you and fails to meet your expectations, try to be like a tree. Just make the best of the situation in that very moment.
If you can do this, you may not always win the game, but you’ll enjoy the game. And you may find that everyone will want to play with you.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......