Once we have a physical space to go to, it is time to work on our attitudes. The best thing to do is to just stop worrying and be cheerful.
That is what we are often told. My experience has been that this is not as simple as it sounds. Because it isn't that simple, is it?
I recently did an online questionnaire that assesses personality type that asked me to put 4 given states in order that best describe me. The one you put on the top was the one most like you. The one on the bottom was the one least like you. I did not feel particularly affiliated with any of the set that was given so I asked my husband to help. One of them was ‘cheerful’. One by one my husband suggested that I was more likely the other one than ‘cheerful’ and finally ‘cheerful’ made it to the bottom of the pile. Least like me.
Of course, I had to ask my husband if he thought me not cheerful. Like every man who has just walked into his wife’s trap he smiled politely, threw up his hands and said he wasn’t going to play anymore. Upon further pressuring, he finally came up with the one perfect thing: “Cheerful people can be kind of annoying, can’t they?” For a guy who doesn’t say much, he knows how to get out of a sticky situation.
My doubts about whether I was a cheerful sort came on the heels of watching a very pregnant woman in the cafeteria-style restaurant at IKEA the other night. The place was packed and it was getting late for our kids to be eating their dinner so I was a little nervous about navigating these circumstances in public. However, we had things to do in the city and needed a reasonably inexpensive, somewhat healthy and kid-friendly place to eat.
For us, getting to the restaurant is always a feat in itself. You have to get past the ball room and explain that we need to get food in us first. Then we have to make it through the maze of furniture and people pushing carts along the blue arrows on the floor. I am always certain we will lose or maim our children on this journey. Next we have to wait in line with the other children pouring out of their skins from fatigue and hunger. When it is our turn, we make the plea that we get the BLUE plate for the boy and the PINK plate for the girl.
So somehow, having presumably worked through the same obstacles as us, this woman with a belly out to yonder is managing to sit peacefully in her chair while her two small children are eating and playing next to her. She is chatting with her husband and smiling calmly and genuinely at least once a minute. She gets up 3 separate times to get a utensil at the other side of the cafeteria, a cup of water, a napkin. I don’t know about you folks, but when I was that pregnant I was getting people to fetch me things. And I certainly would never have braved that environment with my two young ones at my side. CERTAINLY NOT WITH A SMILE.
But here was this woman, finding a way to put on a pleasant face and enjoy her meal at the centre of all the chaos. We can never really know what is going on with other people. Maybe this woman was just having a particularly great day. But somehow I think there is more to it than that. I think she has figured out how to master her attitude.
I don’t think that we should aim to be one of those bouncing, smiling positive, cheerful people 100% of the time. Let's admit it, they are kind of annoying, aren't they? I think that variety is the spice of life. And when we experience lows, we are so much better able to appreciate the highs.
But there is one thing I think we can do to make our lives easier (and be more pleasant to be around). We must figure out a way to sit amongst unruliness and find calm anyway. If a pregnant person with two small children can do it at 7pm in the IKEA cafeteria then so can I! Our meditation and yoga teachers all say the same thing. That it takes practice, regular practice to learn how to experience peace in the face of disorder.
It is certain that we can’t keep bad things at bay in our lives. Terrible things will happen, sometimes all in the same day, month or year. We have to cope. We have to survive them. Some of these things are small on the grand scheme of things. Some of them are total life-changers. Either way, we need to practice responding with the only thing we can control – our reaction to it.
That day in IKEA, I decided to practice smiling once a minute while my husband and I chatted in between coaxing our children to finish their meatballs and mashed potatoes. You know, I don’t care much for phony, but the smiling really worked. I felt happier, more calm. The chaos did not go away. But I didn’t feel like I was being taken away with it.
Perhaps this is also a lesson about seeing someone in a store one day that has something that you admire. Observe for a few minutes. Mimic, repeat where effective.
I am going to set up a regular meditation schedule for myself. Is there time to do it? Not if I keep up the construction, cleaning, chores and tasks I have in mind for myself this fall. Will I do it anyway? You bet.
I think it is joy that we seek, much more than cheer. And if we can’t find a quiet place when the world spins around us, we distance ourself from our inner inherent joy. There are times for cheer and times for sadness. But inherent joy is something we can cultivate through any of it.
So that’s settled. I will find my inner Joyful Girl. Ani Difranco sang in her song with the same title (Joyful Girl): I do it because its the least I can do…I do it because I learned it from you.