My friend M. and I have walked the ridge trail near our homes pretty much every Tuesday for the last 8 years. Last Tuesday, about 5 minutes into the walk, M. tripped and fell onto the trail. Having broken her left arm just six months previously (which required two surgeries and still implanted-pins), and having heard a “crack!” as she fell, she was understandably cautious and concerned. She rolled onto her back and began testing movement in her knees and ankles, felt the soreness in her left foot, and began to think her way through – going to the emergency room, cancelling clients, cancelling plans for the week.
About 2 minutes into her worries, M. suddenly said, “I need to shift my attitude!” She began doing a gratitude practice; she began noticing the amazing patterns in the clouds from her unusual vantage point lying on the trail. I lay down on the trail, too, snuggling together in the early morning chill, holding hands, both of us beginning to laugh at the predicament but also rejoicing in the friendship that was going to get us through the predicament.
On the way back to my car I commented on how resilient M. was, how quickly she had come to the realization that she needed to – and could – shift her attitude. Echoing Viktor Frankl:
Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.
– Viktor Frankl
M. acknowledged she knew she had a choice and she made the choice to come out of worry and into an optimistic view again. It turned out that M. had indeed broken a bone in her ankle; she will be wearing her walking boot for about a month, still seeing clients, still going to her beloved opera on the weekend.
In the coming week, on three different occasions, try noticing opportunities to shift your attitude, and try actually shifting it. Remembering the bigger picture, putting the event in the context of the rest of the day or week or your life, bringing to mind immediately people as resources, and then calling on those resources, naming what’s right with this wrong, shifting to a gratitude practice to move to a glass half full view, counting your blessings for what didn’t go wrong, are all tools to respond to a real or imagined crisis with more open-mindedness, presence, flexibility, and resilience.