Not too long ago, I caught a television documentary about snow geese and found myself unexpectedly fascinated. Snow geese, I learned, routinely fly from South America to the Arctic — a journey of more than 5,000 miles — to give birth to their babies during the three-month summer. Then they fly back. They spend the long winter season enjoying the lovely South American climate with their young. And when the hot season approaches once more, they repeat the entire process all over again.
While the geese’s feats of endurance in making that 5,000-mile trip are certainly extraordinary, what really strikes me about the documentary’s storyline is not so much the Herculean effort that the geese undertake. Rather, it is how masterfully these birds make the most of what nature offers them, and how gracefully they take in stride whatever life’s cycles and seasons throw their way.
Unlike us modern humans — who tend to fight the circumstances that don’t suit us, striving to persist against whatever we find uncomfortable — most animals find ways to work with and around their circumstances. They are masters at making the best of what could very well be seen as a bad situation.
Think about it:
How often is our first response to a perceived problem something stubborn and reactive like, “I must change this, stop this or make it go away!” How often are we even aware that we have other options — options that may actually be better than our own ideas of what’s best?
Rather than going rigid with determination about how things should be and getting mired in frustration, we would do well to start seeing new possibilities in more of the circumstances with which we’re presented.
Frustrated that money is tight? Maybe it’s time to focus deeper attention and appreciation on what you have now, instead of obsessing over what you can’t afford. Then again, perhaps this is a call for you to let go of an expensive indulgence that is costing you dearly, or to learn the financial skills required to help you gradually build a nest egg that will make it possible to pursue your personal dream.
Feeling like you need a whole new social circle? Perhaps it’s time to invest in deepening your relationships and becoming more authentic with the people you care about (and who are always there for you). Then again, perhaps you really have become too insular and it’s time to broaden your horizons or get involved in some new activities.
The point is, there is no one single, right solution: In nature, some animals migrate with the seasons; others happily hibernate or embrace other adaptive measures. But by exploring our full range of alternatives, we stand to benefit rather than suffer from the constant flow of changes and challenges in our lives. With only a small shift in perception, what first seemed to be a vexing problem can actually become a very empowering opportunity.
The experts in Experience Life’s online Healthy Learning Resources section all seem to understand this. Take Byron Katie, for example, who teaches that whenever we argue with reality, we lose (“but only 100 percent of the time”). Her approach, The Work (now available in an online coaching program), is all about challenging our assumptions about what we think of as “true,” and what we think “should be” and what we think “we need” in order to be happy.
And then there’s Marilee Adams, a self-inquiry expert whose teleseminars coach people to move from dead-end “judger questions” (Who’s to blame? What’s wrong with this situation/person? What’s wrong with me?) toward more evolutionary and productive “learner questions” (What’s possible or useful here? What are my options? What do I want?”).
What these wise people know is that in almost any situation that seems painful, frustrating or discordant, there often lies — just below the surface — an opportunity for far greater harmony, understanding and satisfaction. Yes, finding it might require some effort (although it probably won’t be anything like a 5,000-mile journey), and it might also require getting out of your current comfort zone. But you can be certain that taking the time to at least explore new possibilities will expand both your awareness and your satisfaction in living.