Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down...

...the medicine go dow-wow-p0n, medicine go down. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.  - Robert and Richard Sherman

And now you have that song going through your head. It's okay, so do I.  And hopefully it will continue running through your head as you read this, because while it's literally true (adding a spoonful of sugar to a bad tasting medicine will help you to swallow it more easily), these song lyrics pack a powerful metaphorical punch for life.

As in, when there's something you don't want to do, change your attitude and figure out a way to deal with it so you can get it done as cheerfully as possible.

Or, when something goes wrong, try to find the bright side, or the silver lining, or something, ANYTHING good or beneficial about the situation.

Basically, when you are experiencing bitterness, add some sweetness.

That's really what it comes down to, for the actual medicine and for the metaphor. When something is bitter, add your own dose of sugar, in whatever form that may take at the moment.

We all have bitterness. It comes most often dressed as resentment, anger, hurt feelings, and disheartenment.  It differs from grief in that it usually has a hard edge and an acrid taste to it. It usually comes when someone has wronged us, and while we don't want it to stick around, souring everything in our midst, it usually does, the way the stench of garbage still lingers in the empty can.

So how do we get rid of the bitterness that hangs around in our heart, tainting our every thought and action?

Add the spoonful of sweetness that works for you. It may not fully remove the bitterness you're feeling, but it may at least mask it for a while, which is a beautiful first step toward healing. And the more you practice replacing the bitter with sweet, the better you'll get at it.

What is this sweetness, you may ask? Well, there's the obvious answer that chocolate solves every problem (probably due to the endorphins it releases when we eat it) but if you don't want to rely on actual sugar every time, here are some suggestions of things that could sweeten your mood:

1. Count your blessings. See and recognize all of the good things in your life.  Write down a list if you're having trouble remembering them and consult the list when the bitterness threatens to take over everything.

2. Sing a happy song. Or listen to one. Or several.  Music can be such a miraculous tool of healing, and when you are feeling upset or hurt it can lift your spirits and bring you back to peace. (Not to mention,  if you have to do some practical, unfavorable chore like scrubbing the toilets, having some cheery music on to rock out to makes the job not only manageable, but maybe even enjoyable.)

3. Create something. There's nothing like making something with your own hands that helps to bring yourself out of your head and into the reality of the beauty and goodness of the present. If you love to draw, draw something! If your passion is beading jewelry, make something beautiful that you can give as a gift to brighten someone else's day.  If you like to cook or bake or scrapbook or decoupage or build or quilt or anything else that you can find supplies for at Michael's then DO THAT!  It won't take away what the person said but it may help take away how it made you feel. 

4. Exercise.  I once heard James Taylor talk about overcoming drug addiction and he said that he found that the best way for him was to "sweat it out."  His advice was to find something athletic/aerobic that you enjoy doing and do that until you're spent.  Then the next time you want a fix, do it again.  It's not to lose weight or get into shape (although that could end up being a side benefit) but so many of us are addicted to our bitterness and sweating it out of ourselves is an excellent way to help rid ourselves of it - both from a physiological standpoint and from our mental and spiritual views.

(By the way, it's worth noting here that JT's preferred method of exercise was rowing.  "Exercise" doesn't have to mean going to a spin class or training for a marathon - it's whatever you enjoy that's going to get your heart rate up, some sweat coming out of your glands, and your mind focused on the task at hand, rather than the bitterness in your heart.)

5. Connect in some way to the bigger picture of it all. Some people meditate, some pray, some worship, some go out into the wilderness and write in a journal - it doesn't matter what you do, what matters is that you are tapping into the vastness of the universe and feeling your precious place in it.  Gaining perspective on what's going on in your life compared to and conjoined with the other life forms and energy on the planet can make a huge difference when dealing with the problems in our own small realms.

6. Connect with other people.  This is a tricky one - I got this advice some years ago from a well-meaning person (i.e. "If you're feeling down, just call a friend!" To which I wanted to respond "If I had a friend I could call, I wouldn't be feeling so down!!") but the truth is, if the bitterness is taking the form of loneliness, do whatever you can as soon as you can, to get yourself out of that dark hole. Loneliness can cause a tremendous amount of bitterness, and while you might not have a support team around you right now, you've got to make one for yourself.  This might mean emailing a long-lost friend that you want to get back in touch with. It might mean striking up a conversation in line at the store with someone who looks friendly. It might mean joining a MeetUp group that does something that interests you.  Loneliness truly is its own form of horrible bitterness and it needs sweetness added to it, usually more than just a spoonful, as often as possible.

Now, let me just say, and this is VERY important, I am not talking about numbing pain or anesthetizing ourselves from the bitterness.  People do this with drugs and alcohol and food and shopping and all manner of unhealthy things that prevent them from feeling their pain.  I am not advocating any of those things as the "sugar" it takes to help the medicine go down.  Instead, I'm trying to help those of us who struggle with bitterness find a way to deal with as best we can, and as productively as we can, in our daily lives. Until we can learn to let go of it altogether, it makes sense to me to try figure out ways to continue to experience happiness so that the bitterness doesn't consume us.

Because here's the other thing: The bitterness in our lives is there for a reason. It's there for us to learn from and deal with so that the next time we're faced with it, we can handle it more healthily.  Do we want it to be there? Of course not. Would we rather it wasn't there? You bet! But if it IS there (and unfortunately for so many of us it is, and there's a lot of it), it is up to each one of us to choose to enjoy the sweetness of life, rather than the bitter.

I'll tell you, it's very easy to develop a taste for bitterness.  So much so that it becomes the preferred taste in our mouths. We revel in it, we savor it, we eventually begin to seek it out.  Bitterness becomes our favorite flavor and we feel perfectly justified in sprinkling that bitterness over everything and everyone we come across.  And who doesn't know a few people like that? Do you want to become one of those people?

Last thing - have you ever tried eating baking chocolate?  Way too bitter, right? It needs the chemistry of being mixed with sugar to become even palatable.  Don't be baking chocolate.  If right now you can't be sticky sweet marshmallow chocolate fudge, at least be semi-sweet chocolate chips.  Because they have just a spoonful of sugar.

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