Finding Meaning in the Madness

Late January is often a time when people like to ward off the cold by sitting down to a nice bowl of hot, steaming soup. The magical combination of broth, vegetables and meat can result in a meal that comforts and nourishes us, whether we’re sick or healthy. Those quiet moments spent at the table, enjoying such repast can restore our energy to get on with the tasks at hand. After all, we have a long list of things we need to accomplish, places to go and people to see. Usually, the meaning and value of our work is clear, but sometimes, we wonder whether we’re simply chasing our tails. “What is the point of this nonsense? Why do I bother?” we mutter. Sound familiar?


I’ve thought the same thing many times; in fact, it’s something I struggle with a lot. What is the point of having worked as hard as I have only to have it disappear on me? What is the point of helping my dad when he pays no attention? How can I repair a relationship where the other person refuses to budge? Here are three themes: perceived loss, recognition, and control. Where in your life do you struggle with such issues? When have you experienced loss or a significant setback? Where do you feel your contributions aren’t being recognized? What situation is beyond your control? What meaning do you choose to extract from such difficulties or hurts?


The value we assign to these experiences can range from “nothing/who cares” to “life changing,” but the key phrase in this sentence is “we assign.” We control what importance any interaction or experience has in our life. Because it is January, I’m going to use a soup analogy to make my point. Homemade soup is delicious and nourishing and has untold benefits for the body. Just about anything can be used to make a wonderful broth. Certain people I know take pleasure in the challenge of seeing how much flavor they can squeeze out of the “dregs” of their refrigerator—old carrots, a forgotten head of garlic, chicken bones, that sort of thing—to create a wonderful meal. But, regardless of the quality of the ingredients, the cook must pay attention to what they’re doing and work to bring the soup about. “How do I make this a better soup?” I doubt any of you would happily accept a proffered bowl of tepid water where I left the ingredients sitting in the bottom of a pot for three days, but were I to utilize those same ingredients in a different way, well, I have every confidence you’d be asking for seconds!


By the same token, the primary task of any re-booter is to seek out the underlying, constructive value of any relationship or experience—negative or positive. We are here to learn something! We can use this situation to expand our capabilities, to be more resourceful. Instead of defining chronic pain as proof positive that a) the Universe is punishing us, b) my body hates me, or c) it’s more than I can handle, we dig deeper to uncover a far more solid purpose in confronting this challenge. Perhaps we will learn to see this pain as a fulcrum to develop better self control and patience with our failing body. Maybe we’ll grow to understand and be grateful for those around us who are supporting us through this trial. And if we believe it’s too much for us to handle, perhaps we are being called upon the break the problem down into manageable bits. The question we should be asking ourselves is how do we rise to this challenge?


If, like me, you don’t know where to begin, an excellent place to start is to study what we do well. In the arenas where we have met success, what is it that we do and think? We have confidence, right? We’re calm. We don’t get ruffled by other people leaping about or questioning our abilities. We start with the parts we know we can handle. We self-correct if the situation warrants. Our attitudes, our reactions, and our big picture view of what is occurring are entirely different when we experience success. These are transferrable skills.


For instance, what is it about handling difficult customers that might be applied to family members? If a customer throws a fit, accusing us of all sorts of incompetence or bad behavior and says he’ll never return, what do we tell ourselves so that we react calmly and can move ahead with our day? How might we apply the same attitude in other situations, such as when someone dumps us or purposefully insults us? Must we fall apart at the seams? Don’t tell me one relationship is personal and one is not. Think beyond this—you can apply the same (healthy) attitude you hold in one arena in another. And further, when such (more personal) unpleasantness arises, you can see this as a test of your maturity; it’s an opportunity to cultivate patience and compassion for someone who is upset. You are developing the ability to let someone do whatever it is they’re going to do without getting worked up. Do you see how powerful this is? But you can only achieve this if you set your mind to it. You are the cook who makes your soup.


My point is this: when you find yourself in the thick of something that feels pointless or hurtful or could be interpreted as yet another example of how you can’t get ahead, you need to change how you think about it. If you want tasty soup, you gotta stir the pot, you gotta believe there’s potential in that sad little celery, you gotta extract the flavor from the bones—the soup won’t make itself. The more practiced you become at doing this, the more nourishing and flavorful the end result.

Soup pot


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