Have you ever noticed a pattern in your life that subtly undermines your serenity? It’s so pervasive that its omnipresence goes unnoticed. It’s the knee-jerk labeling of life’s unfoldings as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This insidious habit, ingrained in our cultural fabric, often escapes our scrutiny.
Why is this incessant need to categorize our experiences so detrimental? It’s a reflection of our mind’s attempt to assert control, to make sense of the world by filing away experiences in neatly labeled drawers. But what if these labels are just illusions, constraints that we unwittingly impose upon the fluid dance of life?
Consider a day in your life—your coffee pot is empty, necessitating a fresh brew. Your assistant is late due to a family emergency. An urgent crisis cancels an important meeting. Each instance is a chance to affix a ‘bad’ label. It becomes a whisper of stress introduced into your being.
But there is another perspective. The unexpected free time from a canceled meeting or the surprise resolution of a hard drive crash can be openings for growth, for serenity amidst the supposed chaos.
In the modern tapestry of our lives, where digital notifications can signal crises or triumphs, where the global village brings distant upheavals to our doorstep, we can pause. Is the bonus that’s a digit short of expectations truly ‘bad’? Can the delay in our meticulously planned day become an invitation to breathe, to realign with what truly matters?
He was a good swimmer, a very good swimmer, and was training to compete in an important meet. He slipped on a patch of ice and broke his wrist. For weeks and weeks his coach kept him on the sidelines kicking, while his teammates practiced furiously. Initially, he was devastated and felt that his career was over. Then he simply buckled down to doing what his coach told him to do. At the meet, in one of the crucial events, his opponent swam the race of his life. He was quite behind at the halfway mark and should have lost. But the weeks of kicking had given him muscles he’d never had before. He kicked even harder and touched the finish wall a whisker before his inspired opponent.
The swimmer was Michael Phelps. The event was the 100-meter butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He beat Milorad Cavic by 1/100th of a second to win his seventh gold medal. Frame-by-frame photographs showed a tired Cavic gliding with his legs trailing while Phelps gave a final kick. It was one of the closest finishes in athletic history. And without that extra spurt, Phelps would not have won eight gold medals in a single Olympics to beat Mark Spitz’s record.
So, when Phelps broke his wrist in the midst of his most intense training, was it a bad thing or a good thing? Who knows? A case can certainly be made that that injury was the best thing that ever happened to him in his athletic life.
The narrative of our lives is not a binary code of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ but a spectrum of experiences that shape us. Like Michael Phelps, whose apparent setback became a cornerstone of his Olympic triumph, we too can choose to see the unfolding of life’s symphony not in flat notes but in a dynamic range of harmonies and lessons.
In this journey, let us commit to observing our mental reflexes without attachment. Let us recognize the power in releasing the need to label and instead embrace the fluidity of life. For it is in this space that we find the freedom to craft a life of purpose, joy, and peace.