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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

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Transforming the Mindset

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

Opportunities Truly Are A Dime A Dozen

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.
-Don Juan  

“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!” I was muttering to myself as I walked away from the ticket window.

I had just gotten the news that my train was going to be late.

Even after taking a seat, I was still talking to myself, “Late! Late! Late! Late! A thousand times it comes on time. Today of all days it’s late.”

As I sat in my seat smoldering over the realization that I had few choices and even fewer real alternatives, a woman sat down next to me.

“So do you know what time the train’s coming?” she asked.

“Train’s late,” I grunted back at her.

She smiled and said, “Yes I know, but do you know when it’s going to be here?”

“Ah, who cares?” I grumbled. Isn’t it enough to know that it’s late. Just see how they treat us. Other times, nope, other times, it’s never late. But today, of all days it’s late.”

“You sound like it’s personal,” she said.

“It is personal. I have tomorrow off and now I can’t enjoy it.”

“Now why would that be so?”

“Because now I’m in a bad mood and my bad moods last for days,” I said in the most whining tone I could mustard up.

“Do you really think a train delay is personal, something done against you?” she inquired.

“Shouldn’t I?” I responded.

“Why are you taking this so personally?” she asked still not understanding what was perfectly obvious to me.

“Because I am personally angry. And it’s my personal life. And besides I’m just angry.”

The weird thing was the angrier I got, the more she smiled at me. Finally I said to her, “Well, I’m glad that this makes you laugh. I bet that if my discomfort makes you happy then you would be rolling on the floor in hysterics if I fell and sprained my ankle.”

“No,” she explained, “I’m not laughing at you. It’s just that I see so much of how I used to be in how you’re acting right now. But I’m happy to say, I’ve changed my attitude about a lot of things.”

“Oh, so what’s your big secret?” I asked resenting her more and more.

“I don’t know if it was any one thing or just a lot of little things. I guess I finally decided to accept that stuff just happens sometimes. Sometimes banks make mistakes. Sometimes my friends do me wrong. Sometimes things that I count on don’t come out the way I want them to. And sometimes, sometimes trains are late.”

She was finally getting my attention, so I started to soften my attitude towards her. “Well, what’s your point?”

“My point is that you mustn’t think you are the target or the victim of chance happenings. Even though you hurt, that doesn’t mean someone is trying to hurt you.”

“Do you really expect me to believe that this train that is about to delay my weekend and cause me untold amounts of misery and grief from the residual anger I will carry around all weekend is JUST A CHANCE THING THAT HAPPENED?” I asked starting to become exasperated all over again.

She didn’t flinch as she said, “At least admit that it could be.”

“But something caused this anger inside of me.”

“Yes, I think something did,” she said seriously, “I just don’t think that it was as personal of an attack as you may feel that it was.”

"It’s just late?” I asked somewhat in resignation.

“Yes, it’s just late. If you are willing to listen, I have an idea about how to look at this whole late-train crisis thing,” she shook back her hair as she spoke.

“Are you making fun of my crisis?”

“No, I will save that for when I know you better. Anyway, do you want to hear my theory?”

“Okay, shoot.”

“I think that this train being late presented you with an opportunity that you might not have had otherwise.”

“Oh really,” I replied somewhat skeptically.

“Yes, really.”

“Well then Ms. Know-It-All, what kind of opportunity might that be?”

“A brunette opportunity who usually doesn’t talk to strangers.”

“What, you? I bet you talk to everyone,” I said.

“No, believe me I don’t,” she said while shaking her head. “It’s just that you looked so upset and you were sitting there muttering to yourself.”

"I was in a stupor or some kind of fit.”

“I saw what you were doing, my point is that you mustn’t see everything as a personal affront. Sometimes things aren’t what they appear, sometimes they are tremendous opportunities disguised as disappointments.”

“Should I think of you as a tremendous opportunity?” I asked somewhat hopefully.

“Let’s just say that I am a jewel that you might never have seen if the train had been on time.”

“So does that make me a tremendous opportunity for you?” I asked somewhat persistently.

“I don’t know yet.”

“When will you know?”

“When I give it some more thought.”

“Can we sit together on the train?” I asked.

“Sure we can, but the train isn’t going to be here for awhile.”

“Well, when is the train going to be here?” I asked.

“Let’s just say that meeting me is a bigger opportunity than you could have ever imagined.”

Sometimes things aren’t as they appear, they are an opportunity? Oh, come on now. We know exactly how to think about whatever happens to us. We are much practiced at interpreting the events of our life. We are well rehearsed at holding onto our point of view. We are battle tested at not letting go of our narrow mindedness. Clinging to our view of life, knowing what to make out of the events in our life is like an Olympic sport for most of us.

But to tell you the truth, the circumstances in our life are really opportunities dropped in our lap. Opportunities to transform our judgmental, self-critical ways of viewing life into one of compassion and understanding.

How so, you may be wondering. Simple.

We can accomplish so much by this singular act, transforming the way we think about the circumstances of our lives. The transformation? No longer thinking in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, perfect or worthless. No longer holding as our highest value winning or losing, being number one or being nothing at all.

No, the point of our journey is very different indeed. It’s not the point to avoid mistakes and misdeeds. It’s not the point of our journey to avoid hurt and disappointment.

We all need to embrace something different, a rule of thumb if you will. As we step out of the shadows, we will inevitably bump up against our limitations. Our journey is not about achieving spiritual perfection. We are here to learn about ourselves, who we are, how we react to life, where we fall short, how we can use who we are to expand ourselves.

Stepping out of the shadows is a process of adventure and experimentation. Seeing the circumstances in our life as opportunities provides the impetus we need to continue moving forward, not straying from our path of experimentation and adventure. Developing a mindset that interprets our life challenges as opportunities is the key to our cultivating personal growth.

How do we make such a transformation? Stop the judgments. Stop the personalizing. Stop the self-victimizing. Stop the demands for perfection. Release yourself from a quest that judges your humanness rather than celebrates it. Turn all of that in for one basic fundamental tenet.

Quite simply, all that the universe places in our path is an opportunity. An opportunity to grow. An opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to end the war that is waged within ourselves. End the war that is waged between life and ourselves. An opportunity to get our life back in harmony. Back in harmony with the true purpose for which we are here.

Simply by undergoing this transformation in how we view the world, we will discover that what the universe places in our path is an opportunity to look inward. To awaken our soul. To strengthen our spirit. To provide us with the necessary tests to sustain our faith.

This is how the universe illuminates our path. It tests us. The universe provides us with all that we need to learn about ourselves, all that we need to do in order to expand our lives as well as the consciousness with which we expand our lives. It’s up to us to view those circumstances that the universe offers up to us as the means by which we grow or the means by which we are oppressed.

But the benefits go beyond what I have just mentioned. Imagine how the relationship you have with yourself will change by letting go of the criticalness that haunts our lives. The voice that never lets up on us, questioning what we do, how we do it. The voice that pushes us, beats us down,  never lets us have a moment’s peace.

No, the path to stepping out of the shadows is not a path of competition, competing with yourself or others. The relationship you have with yourself cannot be healed by living life by the judgments that live within. A path of genuineness can only be best served when we view the people and the circumstances of our lives as opportunities, not as threats, not as proof of our worth, not as judgments of our value to the world.         

Let’s see if you can discover for yourself the truth about what I am saying. Why not make a list of those circumstances that continue to appear in your life, circumstances that you experience as limiting or even oppressive.

Now, let’s see if there is some way to start thinking about them as an opportunity. How might it be that these obstacles may be the universe opening itself up to you and saying, “Here is something to help you learn about yourself and your journey”?

This exercise can be an incredibly liberating exercise if you follow through on it. Please give yourself the time to do it! Try and get to the point where it becomes an automatic way you come to think about the experiences in your life. You will not always be able to see the opportunity in every happenstance of your life, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one there for you. However, wouldn’t you agree that even asking the question gives you a new choice, and afterall, that is the first step to personal freedom!



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Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

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