I have written before about how we choose to see things or to frame them and the fact that I think this is perhaps one of the few things we actually control, or perhaps the most powerful thing we control. I was reminded of this recently when skiing with my son and my wife. We were coming down a difficult slope which, in the hot sun, had become very cut up and messy. It was our last run and we were tired. My wife in particular had very tired legs with her muscles burning at each turn. She had stopped part way down the slope and I had continued and was waiting for her further down. My son was with my wife. As I was waiting a man skied past me. He was striking in that he was perhaps in his fifties or sixties and had a huge white beard which was very striking. He looked odd or out of place. The next thing I knew my son was shouting. I assumed he had dropped something over the side of the slope like his glove since he had stopped with my wife. He then skied past me and I waited for my wife. She explained that the man who had skied past her had aggressively shouted at her about stopping at an inconvenient point. My son was incensed by him being so rude and had skied down to remonstrate with him.
I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that I didn’t feel this man was real. By this I mean that in terms of seeing life as a game, he was obviously planted by the game. I notice on a regular basis that life makes things, if we are looking, stick out slightly – like a clue. The ancient Greeks used to talk about the gods walking the earth and in this case, I could see this was the god Mars (or in Norse terms he looked more like Thor). My son, by the time he caught up with the man, had lost some of his initial indignation and simply skied past him, at which point the man skied into him and knocked him flying. For me, this had all the hallmarks of what Don Juan, in the Carlos Castaneda, books would call an ally, ie. someone who is their for a particular reason for us to learn something from and not just an ordinary human being. In many ways, I see that all of life is an ally for us, but I see that in specific situations, there are particular allies. It is almost as if we are being tested each day. Now this may be complete illusion, a case of confirmation bias, where we fit the facts to our own pet theory. However, it also occurs to me that it does not matter if this is illusory since it does transform the emotions we feel and the way we respond. Once we see a person or a situation as a test, challenge or ally, we stop being offended and furious and start to think and feel differently. A few years ago there was an article in the New Scientist talking about the work being done on identifying emotions and how we transform them and one of the emotions they listed was curiosity. This was unusual as we do not normally describe curiosity as an emotion yet the more I thought about it the more valuable I saw this definition as being, in that once you have an emotion it is difficult wish it away, instead it is easier to transform it and I realised that transforming anger or indignation into curiosity does provide a very valuable way of shifting negative emotions. My experience coaching people (and my own personal experience) is that the initial surge of frustration or hurt, does shift when we begin to question why the situation has occurred or what we might be learning from it, or being asked to address. Having just spent a few days picking up manure to spread on my garden, I am struck by the fact that turning provocation and difficult emotions into a seed bed for creative learning, whilst never easy, is part of the work we are all doing to make the earth (pun intended!) more fertile!