“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.” ~Charles Dickens from A Tale of Two Cities
During her 1992 Christmas message, Queen Elizabeth referred to the past year as “annus horribilus” — a horrible year. It was the year that the marriages broke down of her two sons Charles and Andrew, and Windsor Castle burned down. I can relate to the Queen’s sentiments. For me, this has been “menis horribilus” — a horrible month.
We all expect unpleasant things to happen to us now and then, but I have felt sucker-punched by a series of events and situations in my life that have left me gasping for air. I have been dealing with some of these things for a while. But several in the last few days and weeks — the loss of a friendship, the death of a neighbor, the serious illness of a beloved aunt — have dropped on me like an atom bomb, rendering me wobbly and stunned.
By nature, I am a positive person and have learned to move past difficulties without bitterness or remorse. I strongly desire a whole and healthy life, and I don’t hesitate to ask for help and support when I need it. I am quick to seek the lessons from a situation or try to find the good to take away from the bad.
But sometimes, when you experience a series of unfortunate events, you just want to crawl in a hole and dwell on the awfulness of it all.
Why, when I am working so hard to live a balanced, happy and peaceful life, is the hand of fate reaching down to rock my world and throw me off course? I think the “working so hard” part of that question is part of the key to the answer.
As much as I believe in controlling one’s own destiny and creating the life you want to live, I also know that so very much is out of our control. It’s all well and good to define and work toward the life of your dreams. I do believe with planning and action, you can make your life profoundly better.
But when a storm comes, sometimes you just have to stop working so hard and just relax into the turmoil and confusion. You have to embrace the strange beauty of life’s ambiguity and randomness. The storms are inevitable, and as with all storms, they eventually calm down, and you can assess the lay of the land. It is what you do during the storms that can be life-changing.
Here is what I have learned and continue to learn about what we can control in life and how to be peaceful and strong during the best of times and the worst of times. I hope it helps you too.
Bad stuff happens—sometimes really bad stuff. Accepting this fact can be the greatest awakening of your life. It’s the start of real peace of mind. Acknowledging that life is uncertain is the first step toward authenticity—toward discovering who you are and what you are made of.
So try this for a moment: imagine yourself on a boat. It is your boat. You are floating along the river of life.
Sometimes the river is calm, the sun is shining, and the scenery is beautiful. Sometimes the people on the shore are happy and smiling. But just around the bend, the water starts to get rough. The rain comes down, the sky is dark, and landscape is barren and oppressive. The people on the shore are angry or demanding or have run away. But in your boat, you remain calm.
You have seen this landscape before, and you know it’s only temporary.
You use this time to patch holes in your boat, to learn to ride the rough waves, to steer clear of the rocks, and to look ahead to the next bend in the river. You know that sooner or later the scenery will change. You can’t control what will appear next, but you can control your boat.
There’s peace in that. There’s certainty in that one thing—you can control your boat. Don’t keep trying to control people or circumstances. Let them go. Let them float on by.
Just command yourself. Just decide to be the peaceful captain of your own boat.
If you have been sucker punched by life or are dealing with a difficult time, here are five books that might inspire you as you become the peaceful captain of your life:
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