“’Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.” – Alice Walker, author
“… a worrisome attitude to life and her new role of raising her children by herself.”
Uraina was a 32 year old woman who loved snowmobiling. But, her husband, Urban, had been killed on a snowmobile when he ran into a tree several months earlier in Quebec. Uraina was the mother of three school aged children. But now, she was also a widow… and so…on her own.
Uraina was a short and petite person with auburn coloured hair and bright brown eyes. She projected a sustained energy that suggested a worrisome attitude to life and her new role of raising her children by herself.
Uraina’s oldest child, a daughter, Ubon, was just 13 years old, her two sons, Ugo and Uffie, were 9 and 8 years old, respectively. Both Uraina and Urban were experienced, and well paid, professionals. And, Uraina had received a substantial payout on Urban’s life insurance policy. As a result, she noted she didn’t have the financial worries some widow’s with children experience.
“I’ll never be happy again and I don’t understand why that shouldn’t happen to me…I’m a good person…?”
But, Uraina still loved getting out on the trails with her Ski Doo, especially in the evening in the dead of winter. She remarked on the beauty of a winter’s night…the calm and quiet when she turned off her machine and looked down over a valley at the brilliant white of the snow and the dim lights in the distance.
She told me she had snowmobiled in almost every province and territory in the country but the best place was Quebec because they got so much snow. And, despite Urban’s death, she projected an almost addictive ‘unhealthy infatuation’ with this winter pastime.
When I asked her how I might serve her, she replied, the confusion etching on her face,
“Ken, Urban and I were always so happy out on the trails with our machines. And, when we took the kids, it was even better. We travelled all over the place just to explore new terrain.”
She paused very briefly before continuing…
“But, that’s all gone now! It was all taken from me! I’ll never be happy again and I don’t understand why that shouldn’t happen to me…I’m a good person…you know what I mean, Ken?”
“I was so happy with Urban.”
I stared at her for a few seconds, composing my response, wanting it to make sense to her in her moment of grief. Then I said,
“Uraina, it sounds like you are being challenged to learn more about life and how it works. Tell me about you past. What are the three things I should know about you which you consider most important?”
Uraina paused before saying,
“I guess the first would be I am an only child, I have no siblings. That’s probably why I wanted kids from the start. I thought they would make me happy…which they have…for the most part…!”
“And, the second…?”
My childhood wasn’t great. My father was away most of the time and my mother spend most of her time depressed.” she replied with a far away look.
“And, the third one?”
“I was so happy with Urban. We had this happy family and we travelled and did stuff together. It was heaven and now its all gone!” she said, as I watched her sparkle, her fantasy, her illusion, dissolve into oblivion.
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” – Denis Waitley, author
“It is actually very disrespectful to our nature to try to be happy…”
“OK! What do you mean, Uraina, when you say, ‘happy.’ What does that word really mean to you?”
She beamed a big smile saying,
“It’s pure pleasure, it’s joy, it’s exuberance, it’s elation, it’s that joie de vie, it’s fun…it’s all that stuff and more!”
I smiled at her and said softly,
“It sounds, and looks like, a person on ‘speed’ or some other amphetamine! That state is not sustainable in our body, it takes too much energy to maintain. It is too polarized and so it’s unnatural!”
“Ken, how can it be unnatural, we are all here to be happy! We all strive for it! Are you saying we can’t be happy?” she replied, confused by my remarks.
“Not only is it unattainable, we are not entitled to be happy. It is actually very disrespectful to our nature to try to be happy, Uraina.”
“I don’t understand that at all. Please explain that to me, Ken!” she said, her confusion growing.
“…whenever I am joyful, I am also sorrowful at the same time?”
“Uraina, your body and mind is made up of a multitude of dualistic systems all working to keep you balanced physically and mentally. Your body is designed to be symmetrical both structurally and within its various organs, tissues, cells and so on. The same holds true for your mind.”
“I realize I have two arms, legs, hands, eyes and so on. I get that! But, what do you mean mentally?”
“Just like having two arms enables you to balance yourself in various situations, so also have two opposing perspectives enables you to deal with various situations. This means you can’t experience pleasure without a counterbalancing pain. So, every one-sided emotion must be counterbalanced simultaneously.”
“Do you mean whenever I am joyful, I am also sorrowful at the same time?” she asked, checking her understanding.
“Yes, I am, Uraina!”
“That would mean I can’t be happy without being sad at the same moment! I find that hard to believe! Show me how that works, Ken!”
“OK…got it! I’m a fly on the ceiling watching.”
“OK! Go to the ‘happiest’ moment of your life with Urban and your children. When was it, where were you specifically? What was going on at that very moment?” I asked her.
Uraina told me about a vacation when they went snowmobiling in Quebec and stayed at a lodge in the Gatineau Hills for the week. I asked her to go to the happiest moment of that trip and describe it in detail.
“One evening, we were all at supper together having been on the trials all day. We were tired and exhausted. We were sitting around this big wooden table and the food smelled so good…it was spaghetti and homemade bread. We were talking, teasing and carrying on…we were so happy at that moment, Ken…really!”
“Uraina, pause that moment in your mind, like it’s a video. See that moment frozen in time and step outside the event as if you were a fly on the ceiling watching everyone at the table. OK?” I asked.
“OK…got it! I’m a fly on the ceiling watching.”
“A source of pleasure is always counterbalanced in the human mind by a source of pain for each person. So, from your perspective, at that very moment, go inside your mind and tell me where was the pain, the disadvantage or the disservice going on in you?”
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” – Brene Brown, author
“Uraina, the pain you are uncovering now is normal, natural and healthy…”
Uraina went into her own head, closing her eyes, slumping back and sticking her feet out in front of her. She was quiet for about 10-15 seconds before opening her eyes, sitting up and saying,
“I remember thinking we should be doing this more often, we should be spending more time together as a family, we should stay longer, why don’t we do this more often,…I was…I was beating myself up, I was guilting myself, wasn’t I, Ken?”
This surprise to her awareness opened her eyes ever wider as she leaned forward in her chair.
Then she added,
“And, I remember Uffie had said he felt a little sick to his stomach and I was worrying he might vomit at the table and spoil the whole thing. And, Urban and I, still hadn’t resolved how we were going to pay for this trip …that was also on my mind at that moment.”
“Uraina, the pain you are uncovering now is normal, natural and healthy…it is how your body and your mind were designed to work to protect you. We have just been encouraged to ignore it. So then, one sided emotions of happiness or sadness are not possible for humans. Both will be there at every moment!”
“… you are only entitled to a life of gratitude, not happiness.”
“But, that means, I will never be happy, Ken! What do we strive for, if not happiness? I’m confused!”
“Uraina, when you carefully analyze and uncover the duality of each important moment in your life you become grateful for your life, you become grateful for the perfect symmetry and synchronicity of your life.”
“So, you’re saying we can become grateful instead of happy because grateful shows us both the pleasure and the pain…right?”
“Exactly, that is when you start appreciating yourself, family, friends, everything about your life. Your realize you are only entitled to a life of gratitude, not happiness. When you see how your life is a perfect balance of pleasure and pain, you are grateful for it as it is.”
“That is kind of profound, Ken!”
Uraina, it is simply the design of us and our world…we are privileged to be here and part of it, eh?”
“Yes, I’m starting to see that now. So, my job is to seek gratitude, not happiness for whatever has happened or will happen in my life!”
“A worthy and achievable goal, Uraina!”
“And, to help my children do the same, eh?”
“You got it now!”
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.”
– Melody Beattie, author