[The Old Woman Who Lived in a Show, image from Artisan Landscape]
“What if you think of it this way?” she said.
Sometimes, we can shift a situation simply by reframing it.
Years ago, a friend of mine was feeling sad, frustrated, and angry. Then, as we sometimes do, she began to turn those feelings inward, feeling sad, frustrated, and angry with herself for having such feelings in the first place. In the midst of that, she had a conversation with someone pretty wise. That person said,
“Imagine you’re a grandmother, and you have so very many grandchildren. In fact, you have more grandchildren than you can count, and maybe they’re running around all over the place. It probably feels pretty disorienting. Frustrated though you are, you’re a loving grandmother, so rather than lashing out at all these grandchildren, you approach them one at a time, and you try to figure out why each one is acting up. These grandchildren are your feelings. Maybe they have some things to tell you. What if you approach them one by one and ask them they need?
“Maybe you say, ‘Honey, you can’t run around like this, and you can’t hit your sister feeling over the head. But come here. Can you tell me why you’re frustrated? Can you tell me why you’re feeling so sad? I’m listening to you.’
“Then listen to yourself. Really listen. Mirror back what you hear. ‘Oh, I hear that you’re scared. Yeah, that can feel scary.’ Then say, ‘I’m here.’ And give these grandchildren what they need — love, reassurance, and confidence that you’re going to be present and that you’ll protect them.”
This was a wise reframing.
Sometimes, we especially need to remember that we are in relationship with ourselves. Entering that recognition more deeply, we can have important insights and grow. None of us is uniform or monolithic. We have parts, and sometimes, some parts of ourselves need to be heard by other parts. We can have internal dialogue. No need for shame spirals. We can hear ourselves with loving intention.
So if it’s helpful, I offer this reframing: You too can be that grandmother.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks