Consider for a minute any part of your life that causes you some stress.
Got it? Hold it in your mind both carefully and gently, carefully so that it does not cause you additional stress by bringing it forward, and gently so that you can take a minute to consider it as part of your reality.
Okay, now with the stress in your mind, imagine the stress and the circumstances that cause it to have come into your life as a friend. I know that on the surface that may sound a bit nutty. But when we look at those things that bother us as being in our lives to teach us something, aspects of the stress start to melt away. To do this, I think it’s useful to personify things.
Like treating stress as a friend.
Think about this. A friend is someone we’ve come to trust. When a friend is honest with us, we appreciate their honesty. We might not like it at first, but when we come to recognize they have our best interests in mind, we recognize the important role they play in our lives. Friends don’t tell us what we want to hear in difficult times (okay, maybe they do a little bit sometimes), they tell us what we need to hear.
Think of stress as being like that. A friend who has come to tell us something we need to hear.
Here’s another way to illustrate the same strategy:
As a teacher, I often give assignments to my students. As most of us have experienced when we are students, we sometimes gripe about assignments. My students sometimes gripe, too. I encourage them to personify the assignment, to see it and treat it as a friend who has something important to tell them. For a reading assignment, for instance, I suggest the students see the text as an informative conversation they get to have with a friend.
Try this in other parts of your life, both those that seem challenging and those that seem easy.
A good place to start practicing this is with the weather. See each day’s weather as a friend who has come to have a cup of tea with you. Be a gracious host. Sit your friend down. Serve her (and yourself) your favorite tea. Offer a piece of coffee cake. Be open to what she has to tell you.
If you’re driving and seem to be slowed by numerous red lights, see the situation as a friend encouraging you to practice patience.
See how this works?
It’s actually quite empowering once you get the hang of it. Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstances, you start to feel like you are in control of situations. Instead of being the puppet, you become the puppeteer.
One of my all-time favorite books is called “The Book of Qualities” by Ruth Gendler. Gendler takes dozens of human characteristics and personifies them, taking a word like courage, for instance, and describing it this way: “Courage has roots. She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye…”
Personifying things can actually be a fun game to play. Doing so with “neutral” things gives you practice that makes it easier to do when a situation is hard. How might you personify your car? A TV show you like? Your favorite tree? A piece of furniture?
And, hey, if you like poetry, you might find that personifying an inanimate object in your home ends up sounding like a poem. Here’s how I personified my laptop, as an example, in the form of a haiku, no less:
The smiling bright face
shared secrets, both good and bad,
while holding my hand.
Of course, a computer doesn’t have a face but the screen is certainly bright and quite often I see it as smiling at me. And, goodness, I can find ANYTHING online, some it good and a lot of it not so good. With a simple few strokes of the keyboard I can be soothed by a quiet song, like a friend holding my hand.
So I encourage you to reflect on those things that cause you stress by personifying them:
- What kind of friend did you find?
- What kind of friend did you let in?
- What has your friend come to tell you?
- What kind of friend have you been?
These questions can be either simple or hard to answer. Make them simple, allow answers to surface. Then accept the answers as news being delivered by a good and trusted friend, be your friend be bringing “good news” or “bad news.”