I have had some breakthroughs during quarantine. It is as if one part of my psyche said to the other parts, “Her distractions are gone y’all. She’s doing great right now so this is the best time to bring up all of our issues. Let’s meet tomorrow, make a list, and present it to her over the next week.”
One morning after a week or so of negotiations with myriad parts of said psyche, I sat stunned on my bed staring out the window at the pool I never use. I’m not a pool person. I grew up going to the beach so when I think of submerging in water I think of trying to catch a wave and most likely getting slammed into the sand until I see red flashes. I’m not clear on the utility of pools unless it is summer here in Texas or I am 10 years old.
But the sun was out, the birds were doing somersaults and backflips in mid-air, deer were congregated in the shade of the trees, and it seemed like my backyard was a Disney movie while my bedroom felt more like Bladerunner.
As I waited for Mary Poppins to descend between the sturdy oaks that surround the pool, I remembered something someone said to me once: “Carrie, it doesn’t have to be so hard.” I was taken aback by the statement when I heard it. I wanted to argue but instead decided to shelve the ego and let it absorb.
I have learned over the years to let ideas seep in to see what I do with them. I can truly just sit back and let my subconscious do the work which is fabulous because I come across too many ideas to know what to do with. The idea may be ephemeral and get expelled during sauna or some unseen part of me will grab it as it floats by. When that happens, it gets turned over a million times, dissected, run through a particle accelerator and then matched to memories, books I’ve read and experiences that build on the idea. I don’t even have to be there while all this is happening. It’s like having a crew of Oompa Loompas in my brain.
So, on that morning, stunned in bed and wondering what one does with a pool, I heard the click clicks of the internal printer et voilà, the readout of the results was presented before me. It is true. It doesn’t have to be so hard.
Next, I did something out of character: I put on my tiny bathing suit because I still think I’m 15 in some universe, grabbed a Topo Chico and a beach towel, and sat by the pool. I lay there in the late morning sun feeling like I was throwing off all responsibility and sort of had no idea what to do. I can’t just lay here, right?
It doesn’t have to be so hard Carrie.
Upon that thought, I remembered the pool was 68 degrees and a coldish plunge would cause at least enough pain to make me feel as if I was doing something useful so I gingerly stepped into the pool. I was in it for a total of 75 seconds but did submerge.
It doesn’t have to be so hard.
But what does that mean, I wondered? What doesn’t have to be so hard? The Oompa Loompas were not going to help me with that. I’d have to figure it out on my own. As I sat there in the sun turning pink, I began to ponder and dammit, if Viktor Frankl did not come up yet again.
I have quoted Viktor Frankl so many times that you would think I am his publicist. I remember the first time I met someone who had also read Man’s Search for Meaning. I was in the middle of a divorce, my father was dying and my mother had metastatic cancer (from which she eventually healed). Things sure did feel hard to me then. It was a hot summer day so I took myself to a movie and before the movie began, a young man sat next to me and we started to talk. How we got on the topic of Frankl is a mystery, but we did and I will never forget it because it felt like divine intervention, of God reminding me how to live through that moment in my life.
We each brought up our favorite quotes from the book. At the time mine was this:
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
He cited this now well-known quote as his favorite:
Between 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.
Looking back now, it makes sense. My go-to way to handle problems, pains, circumstances, chance, and obstacles is to challenge myself to change and that can be hard - useful, and hard. Remembering the space between stimulus and response, or even noticing it, is not my default. I didn’t catch onto it back then during that memorable conversation, but it was hitting me now as I sat by the pool 20 years later pondering how to shift from the belief that life is always a challenge to “Carrie, it doesn’t have to be so hard.”
Where I kept getting caught up was with the fact that yeah, life is fraught with challenge and we must live through those challenges, rise to the occasions, learn from them, conquer them, be better, grow. So how could it not be so hard? How do I make it easier? After all these years of quoting Frankl, I had not actually absorbed what he really meant until that moment. I truly truly do have a choice – I can make life as hard as I want regardless of the situation. This is terrifically profound. It is all about how I respond to it. And that my friends, is a huge relief.
Over the next few weeks I began noticing how I responded to life events. What caused frustration to come up? What caused anger? What caused fear, sadness, grief, loneliness, melancholy, etc. Then I would see if I could turn it:
It’s working! Will I be able to keep this up once quarantine is totally lifted and life gets back to normal? I think so because I am getting in a lot of practice over here. I am also now sporting a tan, have grown accustomed to using a pool, and have decided to re-read Man’s Search for Meaning to see what else I missed way back when.
Moral of the story for all of us is: It doesn’t have to be so hard.
Go, Do Be y’all.
Recommendation: If you want to delve deeper into your psyche before it decides to call a meeting and present to you a wish list, I highly recommend this journaling course. It is life-altering.