By John Schorling
Summer is the time many of us take vacations, often with our extended families or friends. While these events can be very enjoyable and rewarding, they can also be challenging- and they often provide great opportunities to practice mindfulness. When things don’t go the way we had hoped they would, or someone pushes our buttons, it’s easy to get caught up in wishing things were different than they are. Before we know it, we can be caught up in judging other people or our situation, and wanting other people to act differently or the circumstances to be more to our liking.
When this happens, it can be helpful to pause and acknowledge what we are feeling, whether it is frustration or disappointment or anger, with kindness. Emotions are not good or bad, they are just arising from the interaction of the current situation with our past conditioning. We usually can’t control what we are feeling, but we can choose our response to it. We also can’t control how other people act or many unforeseen events that arise, like cancelled airplane flights or traffic jams, but again we can choose how we respond.
In these situations it can be helpful to remember our goal, which is usually to have a good time. Outside events can affect this, but if we’re not careful our preoccupation with thinking our trip has been ruined can make things even worse. This is the so-called second arrow of suffering. The first arrow is the event itself which is unpleasant, and the second arrow is the negative reaction we have to the event which makes things even worse for ourselves, and may even be a greater negative stress than the original event. Recognizing that this is occurring and interrupting the cycle by bringing our attention back to the present moment can be very helpful, noticing if we’re catastrophizing, and practicing letting go of these thoughts, perhaps by paying attention to breathing or bodily sensations instead, and then choosing to focus on alternative thoughts that are more consistent with our overall goal (having a good time).
As an example of this, my wife and I recently went on a trip to the Colorado mountains. I was looking forward to spending time outdoors, and instead had plenty of opportunities to practice my own acceptance of things as they actually played out. To begin with, thunderstorms delayed our final flight into Denver by several hours, and our rental car had been given away when we finally did arrive after midnight. Once we got another car, we still had several hours of driving ahead and had to decide whether to get a hotel room or finish the trip. We decided to go for it, and promptly ran into a June blizzard as we drove up into the mountains. Fortunately our replacement car had four wheel drive so we could keep going, and we did make it to our destination. However, the weather continued to be cold with intermittent rain and snow so we did not get outside much during our stay. Although disappointed, I really focused on trying to quickly notice emotions as they arose, to not feed the negative ones, and to enjoy what we could do, including relaxing in front of a fire. As a result, it was not the vacation I had hoped for but I still had a good time, and will likely long remember the summer trip to Colorado in a blizzard.
Filed Under: Monthly Musings