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  • jeniferfoster2

How we define ourselves...


I’ve been traveling recently. I do somewhat of a slow-paced travel. I like to walk around and take in the sites; take in the people; take in the culture. I don’t enjoy doing a ton of museums. I like one or two. But, going to a gazillion wears me out and I don’t enjoy it. I don’t do that very often.


But traveling to other places and eating different foods and talking with people from a different culture is amazing. You can learn so much from people from other areas – whether that is within the same country or from different countries. It is really astounding just how much the environment can shape who you are. I also feel like traveling to other countries helps me understand my own better. For instance, I knew nothing about immigration laws in the US before I started traveling to other places.


What I started thinking about on this trip (thus far) has been how easily we get negative thoughts in our head. I have run into multiple obstacles this trip. My first flight out of DC was delayed so much that I would have missed my connection. So, after spending two hours in the airport, I turned around and went home. The second day, my second flight of the day was delayed by two hours, putting me into Bogota at 1:30 a.m. When I left Bogota to come to Ecuador, multiple things went wrong. First, the uber we had taken to the airport broke down and we had to then get a cab. Also, the tickets I thought were scanned into my phone were not, and I had to go to an agent. I had not budgeted extra time for that. The immigration line, instead of taking the 10 minutes posted, took almost an hour. I still had to go to security. By the time I got to my flight, it was mostly loaded – me and only a few others were left. So, unfortunately, even though my seat was in the middle of the plane, my bag was put in the back. Thus, when I got to Ecuador, I was at the back of the line of guests entering the country, and immigration took an hour and a half. Even the immigration officer seemed surprised by the wait.


But, the funny thing is that my boyfriend says, “maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t be going to Ecuador.”


Isn’t that strange that we do that? How often? Often! I remember a friend of mine, when I lived in Arizona, she missed the bus to work. She thought she was being punished (by god, the gods, fate) for something she had done. Karma, if you will.


Several years ago, I went to a training given by Dr. Joffe Ellis (Albert Ellis’s wife. Now – if you are not a connoisseur of therapies, you may not know that Albert Ellis is the one of the founders of cognitive-behavioral therapy (and is the founder of Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy). Dr. Joffe Ellis is also quite involved in REBT (she co-authored books with her husband on it)). At any rate, she told a fable, which I am not going to repeat verbatim here; however, the gist was that in life, we assign the events that happen to us the labels of either “good” or “bad.” But, those events are really not good or bad – they are simply events. We make decisions about how to define them. Events that are seemingly "bad" can actually have very positive outcomes (and visa versa).


There is something about that which really resonates with me. If I’m delayed at the airport, it really isn’t good or bad, it’s just something that has happened. There are likely positive things that might come from it, and negative things that will come from it. But, can we really put a whole trip’s worth into the delay of a flight?


One thing I have realized over the years is that even events that were soul-crushing and exhausting, had positive effects in my life. All of them. But, how often do we want to just cover them up, forget about them and move on? Almost every single time. It is truly painful to let them be and let them unfold. It’s painful to sit with them and explore the feelings that bubble up. But, that is life. Life is beauty and pain. And, aren’t those really two sides of the same coin?


I had someone recently who insinuated that nothing bad must have happened to me, because I’m not jaded. Let me assure you, that is not true. There are many many many ways that I live a privileged life. I am well aware of that. There are many in life who have a harder hand. But, my life has not been without its pain. I have worked very hard (in and out of therapy) to stop myself from generalizing one (or multiple) painful events to all people, or to everyone who falls into a group, or to even everything about one person. I have worked closely with people who others deem to be “evil.” I do not believe in such terms. I believe that all people have good and bad things that they’ve done. They have done things which are painful to others and they have done things which have helped others. I believe everyone has a story. That doesn’t justify their actions. Most people have full control over their behavior. However, I understand that hurt people hurt people. I understand that desperate people do desperate things. I understand that people who are hurt and angry lash out at others. Hell, I’ve lashed out at others in anger. I’m not proud of that, but I’ve done it.

One of the most interesting things as a therapist is hearing people talk about forgiveness. “I have to forgive XX for raping me.” “I have to forgive XX for abusing me.” “I have to forgive XX for cheating on me.” But, the truth is, forgiveness is for us, not for XX. Forgiveness allows our heart and mind to be free. Anger, hatred, and pain holds that event (or series of events) ever-present in our lives. But, if we can truly forgive it (and maybe find purpose somehow in the experience), then we can let it go. In healing, it’s not that we forget what happened. It’s that it no longer controls our thoughts; our feelings; our lives. We are SO much more than one experience. We are so much more than a series of experiences. We are an endless sea of stories and events. Some have been beneficial; some have been painful. Our lives are a culmination of all of those. Why do we let one small piece define us?


So, what is the point? The point is to find joy. Throughout the day, search for joy and happiness. Appreciate and have gratitude. Breathe in the fact that events are passing; emotions are passing; life is passing. We can hold on to negativity and strife, but then that defines us. It is everywhere if we let it be. We don’t have to.

I’m not saying that life is easy. It’s not. There are times that it is damn hard. But, there are also times that are jubilant. There is love if we let there be. There is friendship. There is fun. Regardless of circumstances. If you’ve ever done any sort of traveling, you can find people who seemingly have very little, and yet are abundantly happy. Happiness does not come from lives free of pain. Happiness comes from appreciation.


May today you find joy.



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