The etymology of tradition is from the Latin: “ to give across.” The beliefs, customs, and practices given across or handed down from one generation to the next becomes an anchor in our lives when everything else seems to be in a constant state of change.
During this week following the passing of Queen Elizabeth, the power of tradition becomes clear. While for some, the pageantry may seem antiquated and even irrelevant, for many it is a comfort and a rare experience of groundedness, endurance, and the things that remain with the passing of time.
One of the traditions of the British is the paying of respect. Five miles of people stood in line for hours to walk by the coffin of the late Queen to say a proper goodbye. In her life, the Queen followed predictable customs and upheld values of faith, family, civility, following rules, staying the course, giving and expecting respect.
These are not flashy concepts but served the country well during all kinds of troubles. One of the things I have admired most about the Queen is her behavior during World War II. Her family stayed in London during the blitz and did not run away; she not only talked about defending her country but she became a mechanic for military vehicles. Wearing a crown is one thing; backing up power with practical and predictable duty is another.
Duty, service, respect, family, moderation. Her sensible shoes will be hard to fill. They remind us that what is most worth passing on may not be be glamorous, but it is the stuff that endures and helps us to “stay calm and carry on.”
“All things are difficult before they are easy.” Thomas Fuller. I am not sure that absolutely all things are difficult, but many things that look easy were at first difficult. Easy is “not hurried, is free from pain, annoyance, and anxiety. Easy connotes comfort or relaxation, is not burdensome, fitting comfortably, allowing freedom of movement, attained readily, naturally, and spontaneously.” Merriam-Webster.”
Thank goodness some things just seem naturally easy: a pebbled path in a rose garden, drive through windows, or a friend you are nearly as comfortable with as being by yourself. Some things become easier with practice: learning to speak another language, maneuvering through Excel, sticking with a weight lifting program.
Some of the best things in life begin in the stage of difficulty. There are fits and starts like learning to drive a car with a clutch, or getting your fingers on the right strings of a violin, or learning to live with a health challenge.
Listening in order to know someone, even a family member or friend more deeply, when you already thought you knew them, begins in the stage of difficulty.
Feeling difficulty is not automatically a signal to stop. It can be a stage, that if recognized as a stage, can be worked through. Committing to something important to you, that may seem difficult and nearly impossible, rewards us with confidence and grace, and perhaps eventually the feeling of easy.
As we have so sadly experienced, wars seem to go on and on and on. While there is not the televised 24/7 coverage on the war in Ukraine, we know it is ongoing. Threatening alliances and saber rattling have become a part of our daily experience. Even in our own country, political wars wear us out with battles flaring up regularly. Violence has become a default instead of the exception as war zones in our own cities disturb daily living.
The way to peace in any kind of war is not always achieved by brute force. It may consist of methodically removing negative factors that come together to destroy peace and balance. Identifying these factors is a critical step. Inequality, poverty, discrimination, and lack of hope and inspiration are some of these factors. An initiative in Chicago called Hope Chicago is using philanthropist money to assure free college within Illinois for students of some of the most stressed student populations on the South Side. The free tuition, room and board, and books is for each student and for one caregiver in the student’s family. Peace in Chicago may be helped more in this kind of warfare than by any perceived containment of violence.
And so it is with the nature of the wars each of us find ourselves engaged in. We must sort out the negative factors and creatively replace them, one by one, with a strong initiative for peace and balance. The nature of war may be to eliminate the enemies in front of us, but only ruins are left without a commitment to strengthen what it is that we have loved and cherished enough to defend.
One of the most helpful skills to be learned in cognitive therapy is what is sometimes called cognitive “reframing.” This technique begins with looking at a situation squarely in the face and then consciously choosing how to think about it in a more positive or realistic way. This takes some creativity when the situation at first look seems threatening or at least annoying. Reframing, while aiming for a more positive take of a situation, also can look like adjusting expectations.
In the previous column on ADD/ADHD the discussion reframed what is sometimes termed a “disorder” to an alternate way of processing information—a way that is not how most people do things. Living well with ADHD requires first identifying it and then beginning to find both the challenges and the gifts of it. For example, a common feature of ADD is “hyperactivity” or restlessness or the need to move around a lot. This can cause problems when the general expectation in school, for example, is to be able to sit quietly in a desk without “fidgeting” around with anything that will move or fly. I once had a young client who could not sit still for therapy sessions, so we discovered that his walking around the room during the session actually brought better focus.
One of the hidden gifts of “hyperactivity” is energy. When this energy is focused and channeled, the person who is uncomfortably confined to a space for extended periods of time may be able to work at their own pace for long hours on a project requiring sustained energy. A strong interest in a project can be the motivator that allows the person with ADHD to hyperfocus without being taken off course by distractions. I always remember the high school student who could not seem to get interested in writing a comparison/contrast essay until he was encouraged to find his own interest. The “A” paper happened when the student understood that researching the paper could include going through magazine ads and visiting dealerships about different models of cars he was hoping to someday buy!
Silver linings are often there. We just have to take a step back from negative first takes and believe they are there waiting to be discovered.
Moods can seem so fickle, like weather in our heads. You wake up and the sun is shining and you are feeling in a great mood with energy to begin the day. Then, you look at your calendar and realize that you had forgotten an early appointment. Everything shifts as you go into rush mode. Not unlikely, you will have forgotten your phone and realize it just as you are backing out of the driveway! Back into the house to get it, but not before seeing the dog’s dish is out of water. Sometimes a mood shift can be caused by an environmental situation.
Sometimes our moods just seem to happen. Maybe we have been feeling a little “under the weather” or sad for no particular reason that we can think of. And then the phone rings and a friend is inviting us to lunch or just calls to say hello. New energy seems to fill our sails and our mood has changed. Amazingly our spirits may lift and our mood improves from a social interaction.
Psychology calls moods “affective states,” less specific than emotions or feelings, and longer lasting. A mood disorder is characterized by highs and lows that interfere with our everyday lives. Hormones, environment, physical illness, grief, poor sleep, stress, and boredom are factors to consider when assessing moods. A depressive mood lasting longer than a couple of weeks may suggest clinical depression. Moods that include intense states of both depression and a driven energy known as “mania” may indicate a bipolar mood disorder.
It is a good idea to be aware of our moods and identify triggers that may be bringing them about. It is a decision then as to how to manage negative stimulants in our lives. Also, it is a good idea to have a “toolbox” of things that can help us to manage moods. A walk outside in nature, listening to music, tidying, gardening, venting in a journal, or talking with a supportive family member or friend may be helpful. Moods usually pass like clouds in the sky. If they do not, it is the work of the mental health professional to help sort them out and advise for therapy or possible medical intervention.