Thursday, August 27, 2009
Giving in or Just Getting Started?
"When difficulties seem insurmountable, optimists react in a more constructive and creative way. They accept the facts with realism, know how to rapidly identify the positive in adversity, draw lessons from it, and come up with an alternative solution or turn to a new project. Pessimists would rather turn away from the problem or adopt escapist strategies--sleep, isolation, drug or alcohol abuse--that diminish their focus on the problem. Instead of confronting them with resolve, they prefer to brood over their misfortunes, nurture illusions, dream up "magic" solutions, and accuse the whole world of being against them. They have a hard time drawing lessons from the past, which often leads to the repetition of their problems."--Matthieu Ricard, from his essay "Optimism, Pessimism, and Naivete," featured in the anthology In the Face of Fear: Buddhist Wisdom for Challenging Times
Our new kitten, Joey Thumbs, is peeing on the bed. She's done it a few times now, even though her clean litter box is just a few feet away. She knows how to use the litter box; Mike can certainly attest to that since he's constantly scooping it. So this peeing is something else entirely. Nerves? Marking territory? Needs a diaper?
Also, Joey and Audrey (our ten-year old cat) aren't getting along so well. I let Joey out of the guest room (where we keep her when we're not home) and she inevitably runs toward Audrey, who hisses, growls, and raises a paw to her (no scratches yet, but they're coming.) We've tried to get them used to each other. I read that putting sardine oil on each cat's head makes them smell the same, so they aren't afraid of each other. I tried this trick and just ended up with two greasy, smelly cats.
Give it time, people say. They'll come around. Soon they'll be grooming each other. You just have to be patient. I hear the same from my podiatrist about my broken foot--give it time. It will heal. Lately I've had to face the fact that I'm lacking in patience. I want to integrate the cats now, I want Joey to stop peeing on the bed now, I want my foot to be completely healed now. It's hard to see ahead a few months, when these minor irritations will be mostly forgotten.
I'd love to be an optimist. My mother is one. Mike's mother is, too. Optimists still have problems, but they see them more realistically. If they lose their job they do what they need to do to get another one. They don't sit around and fret, feel sorry for themselves, tell themselves they are unemployable and will have to spend the rest of their life scraping by on odd jobs.
My foot is broken so I can't do the power walking I was doing in the spring. I feel bloated and lethargic, worried that I'm getting pudgy. I could try exercises that don't involve putting weight on my foot. Or I could lie around helplessly in the air-conditioned bedroom, reading books about people who are actually accomplishing things in their lives (for example, Three Cups of Tea. That guy embodies optimism!) You can face adversity--small stuff like mine, or big stuff like poverty, lack of an education, corruption all around you--and weather it. You can be a scraggly tree branch, bending and twisting but not snapping off in the wind. Or you can be a pile of useless dead twigs, slowly decomposing into the earth.
OK, a little dramatic. I'm free-associating here.
It is easier to curl up in bed and sleep for twelve hours. But you don't wake up feeling refreshed. You're just more stressed about all the things you haven't done or people you haven't called or the book you haven't written. Having the courage and patience to get things done, even if it's only a few steps towards a goal, is optimism. Pessimism is saying to yourself, I am overwhelmed, I can't walk far without wincing, the cats are peeing and fighting and breaking my ceramics. I think I'll have a cocktail.
I want to be a better person than I am right now. I need the courage to get started, and the optimism to keep going. It's the end of summer, soon the beginning of a new season. Time for another fresh start.