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August 27, 2019

Climbing out of the Dumps

Climbing out of the Dumps

Have you ever noticed that the person who helps you is probably not the person who is “trying” to? We all need help occasionally, whether it be financial, psychological, emotional, and so forth, and as soon as we are vulnerable, help is on its way, unfortunately. The reason I say “unfortunately” is that the “helping hand” is often inept. People who are themselves in distress often are the first responders to our crises because our crisis offers a distraction from theirs. Misery loves company. Even when our aid is trouble-free himself, the “knight-in-shinning-armor” lure may be the impetus behind a seemingly innocuous offer to assist. No wonder the Buddhist master Seng Chao cautioned, “Beware of the person who is trying to help you.”

When we are stressed and need help, we may conceal it, precluding even the possibility of receiving help. Concealment is a big mistake. Openness is not just for meditators, but everyone. That being said, climbing out of a low point in our lives will require someone who not only sympathizes with our situation but is also one whom we resonate with. And, it may be a new acquaintance.

Unfortunately, when we are low, we become numb and often seek relief wherever its source may be, sort of like a thirsty trekker who satiates himself with the first water he comes across (I got typhoid fever this way.) When in need, all options look pretty good. We are in beggars cannot be choosers mode.

But, just as the wrong water can make an already dehydrated trekker worse off, wrong advice can get us deeper in the hole than we already are. Whenever we are vulnerable, we should set up our radar and ward off casually offered advice, and be equally cautious towards material assistance because it often comes with a catch that will bite us later.

Often in my own life, I have broken away from my familiar associations when depressed and in the dumps. I change my usual haunts to stimulate the potential to arouse a fresh look at my situation. I find that real help often comes unexpectedly, and I attract it to me when I break away from my daily routines. Typically, I tend to hunker down when I am low when I should be doing the opposite. Over the years I have gotten wise to my inclination to withdraw and learned that I need to change coffee shops, the route I walk, the gym I go to, the parks I visit, the stores I shop at, and so forth. Often it has been a person I meet in the brand new context I create that has helped me see through my difficulties. And, even when no helpful words are evoked I find that merely reconfiguring my day is enough to change my attitude for the better, and bring a measure of clarity.

When we are in the thick of it, a way out seems impossible. Whatever we can do to gain a fresh view of things is the best alternative. Many years ago when I was living in Nepal, I went to get some herbs from a Tibetan herbalist. She took my pulse and detected I was stressed. After giving me the herbs I asked for she said, “Why don’t you get on a tour bus of the Kathmandu Valley and spend the day touring with a bunch of tourists. Although she was aware that (as a long-time resident) I knew every inch of the Valley, she perceived that I needed a day off from being “me.” I think we all need to go on holiday from ourselves from time to time, not only to ward off bad times but preemptively avoid them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the Tibetan herbalist’s advice on that occasion. Sometimes when we are in a dark place, we tend to think some profound solution is necessary and overlook simple advice that would work. But, her words stayed with me, and I often have had recourse to put her practical advice into practice. As mentioned above, I introduce new places into my environment, new faces to look at, new people to talk to, and so forth. I give my day a facelift. It works.

Growing is not just for kids. As adults we are growing emotionally, intellectually, and undergoing physical change, aging and so forth. We go through times of material success and lack, as well. If happiness were static we would soon tire of it, so thankfully growth brings challenges that make life worth living, rather than introduce complexities we allow to knock us down.

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