Something bad happens and before you’ve even thought of picking yourself up a ton of disasters tumble down on top of the first, as if they’ve been waiting round the corner for the go ahead. Recognise that?
Shakespeare (of course) summed it up nicely: When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. Indeed they jolly well do.
It’s as if the Universe is … well … taking the piss. If you found yourself in the pub with the Universe, you’d give it a wide berth on the grounds that schadenfreude is a questionable way to get kicks, and the Universe’s tendency is borderline sadistic. To be fair to the Universe, it does the opposite too. When something good happens, the whole world turns into roses with an orchestra.
Take the client, for instance, who is reeling from the recent end of a long relationship. She had a holiday planned, a three week adventure across Russia. She’d booked a year before but now she was dreading it. She was exhausted even thinking about it, the prospect of actually going and enjoying it was out of the question. She nearly cancelled, which would have cost her a lot of money and in the end decided to go. The trip would distract her, her friends said, cheer her up and give her confidence.
She didn’t have a great time. The plane was delayed, and packed, and the seats seemed closer together than normal; the guy in front kept his seat reclined the whole way so she could hardly move; she had a cold before she got on it, which was worse by the time she landed. The hotel had mixed up her booking, and didn’t have a room. She was transferred to another hotel, and upgraded, but it wasn’t what the place she’d planned and the move delayed her first night’s rest. She didn’t like the food food and didn’t enjoy any of the books she’d brought with her. The tours were badly organised and too long and she couldn’t understand the guides. Mostly, she waited for the holiday to be over, so she could come back and be miserable in her own home. How could so much go wrong, she said during our session, on one holiday, and what had she done to deserve it?
Another client has started a job he loves and has just discovered his wife’s pregnant with their first baby. He looks different to how he’s looked for months, he smiles most of the time, jokes, his eyes are sparkly, he seems taller, and that’s without accounting for the fact that he appears to be walking on air. His dog died last week. He loved his dog. But the dog was old. 22. It was a good death, he couldn’t have hoped for better. Then he lost a lot of material from his computer. Half a novel that he’d been working on for years. It’s okay, he told me. He was bored with that story and he’ll not have time for it now. His sister, whom he adores, is emigrating to Australia. It’s great, he says, just think of the holidays.
You’d have to have been practising Buddhism for a long time not to recognise this phenomenon on a fairly regular basis. When something upsets you, your mind interprets everything through the lens of negativity. When you’re in a positive place, everything looks fantastic.
Which is good to know. So, knowing it, as most of us do, how come it’s so hard to keep perspective? Why didn’t the first client take the hotel transfer in her stride, and enjoy the Hermitage? Why didn’t the second client, throw a wobbly over the loss of his novel? Because being aware that you’re viewing life through a lens isn’t always enough. Not if the negativity has got a grip and is trying its hardest not to let you go. Sometimes you need a helping hand. Someone, objective and careful, on your side, to offer a challenge to this perspective, ask you how you felt when a similar thing happened before; get you to give up the thinking process through some mindful mediation, even a few minutes can be enough to demonstrate that it’s the thought about the event rather than the event itself that’s causing the grief; remind you to plod on, because this too will pass.