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Reframe When Necessary

Photo by David Marcu

Reframing a situation or an event is one my favorite things to do. The first time I remember realizing I had the "power" to reframe was during some of my extensive trainings in mindfulness meditation and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. One day we talked about some of the usual reactions to the weather. If it's sunny out, nearly everyone talks about what a "nice" or "beautiful" day and it does feel like there's a brightness in our lives. However, there still could be some other unpleasant things going on. On the other hand, if there are dark clouds and rain, how many times do we hear, "what a terrible day". The truth is, it's simply raining and while it might have put a cramp in certain outdoor activities, just the fact of moisture coming from the sky doesn't make the whole day horrible.

I have the perfect example of reframing from an interaction I had one time with my mother. Since I use this a lot, bear with me if you've heard it before. It's really worth hearing it a second time and if it's your first time hearing it, you'll see why it's such an excellent way of explaining the concept.

I had been invited to spend a week in New Hampshire, over New Year's, skiing and partying with a group of people. I only knew one person (the woman who invited me, someone I knew from work in Boston) and I was assured that the group was open to newcomers. I hadn't skied in years and she said she'd lend me what I needed. I went and had a fantastic time, yet this is something like how the conversation went when I told my mother about it later ...

Me (M): I just got back from a week in NH, skiing. My Mum (MM): New Hampshire?! How far away was it? M: Only three hours. MM: Three hours?!? Isn't that far?!? M: No, not really, besides it was fun. MM: Were these friends of yours? M: No, I just knew one person. MM: What?! (horrified) You didn't know anybody?!? M: No, but I got to make some new friends. MM: You don't really ski, so what did you do? M: I took a lesson and took it easy on the beginners' slopes. MM: Wasn't that hard?? M: No, I laughed a lot, especially when I fell down and ended up going partway down the hill on my butt! MM: Where did you stay? M: In a ski house with 11 other people. MM: That many people?!? Wasn't it crowded?! M: Not really. We all did what it took to live together respectfully. MM: Wasn't it cold?? M: Well, yes, but we also had a ski lodge with a fireplace and hot drinks and at least there was something to do that was appropriate for the weather.

To my Mum, the whole trip sounded awful and she easily found a lot of things "wrong" with my experience. Fortunately, I was able to see it all from a different perspective and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Reframing is about not having to do something, but getting to do something as in "I get to go to work, make money, and create a life around that", not, "I have to go to work and I hate it".

It's about not necessarily having the "best" of everything, but making the best of whatever you have.

There's a great story about a Chinese farmer whose horse runs away. His neighbor says, "What bad news!". The farmer replies, "Good news, bad news -- who can say?". A few days later the horse returns accompanied by another horse. "What great news!", says his neighbor. Again, the farmer says, "Good or bad news, who knows?". He gives the second horse to his son who is thrown off and breaks his leg in three places. "Oh, bad news", says the neighbor. You know what the farmer said. A week later the emperor puts out a call for all able-bodied, young men to fight in his war -- the son can't go and is saved from fighting.

When something doesn't seem to be quite what we had hoped for, it's always worth going for a reframe. Sometimes we can do it in real time and sometimes we have to wait for some time to pass.

Photo by Anthony Garand

  • Losing a job might seem like the

worst thing until we realize it opens us up to finding our true calling.

  • Getting divorced, especially if we didn't initiate it, could feel like we'll never recover until we start doing things we never did while in the marriage.

  • Having a serious illness might feel unfair and nearly impossible to accept until we realize it's giving us an opportunity to refocus on health, family, friends, and love.

The next time things aren't going your way or if you have someone tell you about how badly their day or life is going, see if you can step back and come up with a reframe. Take the situation and put it in one of those gorgeous, gilded, hand-made, antique frames you see around a museum's greatest artwork and make it work for you, not against you. This is what I wish for you, with all my heart.


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About the Author




Barbara L Cummings, MS, RN

the Mindful Maven and Mistress of Meditation, is a sassy Queen-ager, mentor, confidante and trusted guide who provides people with everyday life support. 

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