I had intended to write about something else today, but I just have to share this.

I am currently in Chicago for a conference on Integrative Mental Health (which will probably inspire the next few articles).  On the way, my flight got delayed.  For SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS.  (It went round and round – first we boarded, then we de-planed, then we boarded again, then we were going to stop in Kansas City to fuel about halfway, then Air Traffic Control held us off for another several hours on the runway…)

Ordinarily this would have upset me, but I’d been studying and meditating on scripture in the airport, and then I listened to a few seminars on integrative cancer therapy that were heavily focused on hope and the power of the mind.  After filling my head with this, it was strange that I didn’t even have to try to stay peaceful, delay after delay after delay.  Everyone else was irritable, but it just somehow didn’t seem like that big a deal to me.

…Then it got worse.

I got in to Chicago at 1:30 am (instead of the intended 5 pm, in time for the pre-conference mixer).  Outside of the airport, I tried to hail a taxi, but instead, an aggressive driver pulled me over to his unmarked black vehicle.  Once I realized it wasn’t the familiar bright yellow taxi color, I backed away (as a girl traveling by myself, that seemed like a bad idea).  But he opened the door to show me that there were several people inside already, all of whom assured me that I wasn’t going to get kidnapped.  I just wanted to get to my hotel at that point, so I got in… only to be told after we’d started driving that the fare was about three times what I had expected.

Then I told the cab driver (or whatever he was) where my hotel was, and he immediately launched into all the colorful horror stories of crime in the area, including three men, traveling all together, getting mugged in broad daylight. He told me I’d be fine if I never left the hotel, but if I ventured outside at all, I was liable to get raped or shot. The other passengers assured me that he was exaggerating… but, they reluctantly agreed, it probably was a good idea for me to find another place to stay.  I’d prepaid for my reservations already, though, and I’d overheard fellow plane passengers complaining that all the hotels in Chicago were already booked. Nevertheless, I frantically called around, and did manage to find that the hotel hosting my conference had a room available for that night only… for almost $300/night (and that’s in addition to what I’d already paid for the other hotel).  For a big city maybe that’s a normal rate, but I’m from Tucson, so to me that’s insane.  It was almost 2 am, though, so I said, “Sure, whatever.”  (I was starting to lose my peace a little by this point, I’m not gonna lie.)

The driver dropped off the other passengers first, so he and I were alone for the last few blocks.  He spent those blocks vituperating about how the previous passengers had not tipped him well, and regaling me with yet more crime stories, almost like he was trying to scare me.  When he (finally!) dropped me off, he told me I owed him more than the original price he’d quoted me, and more than I had in cash (which meant I couldn’t tip him, either).  He snatched what I had very irritably, and left (presumably cursing all the way).

I got four hours of sleep, woke up and tried to find an available hotel room for the remaining nights of my stay. Sure enough, they were all were booked… except for the one I was at already.  Apparently a room had become available in the four hours while I slept. That means I’ll have to skip part of the conference and my lunch to drag my luggage around until I can check back in, instead of taking a nap to catch up on the sleep I missed last night… But least I won’t get mugged!

You Have a Choice

I’m by no means claiming this is worst challenge imaginable (nor is it anywhere near the worst I’ve faced in my life… all things considered, it’s just a minor inconvenience).  But my point is just this: every day, we all face challenges of some kind, and we get to choose what we focus on.  You can focus on the problems, or on the blessings.  I did go to sleep frustrated last night, but I woke up this morning thanking God that I got that cab driver who could warn me, rather than staying in a seedy part of town, and for the finances to cover surprise expenses like this one.  Then I found out that my hotel was at full capacity last night… which means I must have gotten the very last room, since I called after 1 am. (What would I have done otherwise?)  Somehow, by the time I’d finished with those prayers, I felt very blessed and grateful.

Give Thanks

Here’s the catch, though: you have to prepare yourself in advance to see the blessings, rather than the setbacks.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow described the “Hierarchy of Needs,” which says that we all tend to focus on the problems that need solving in our lives in order of importance, from survival all the way up to life purpose.  In other words, when you’re starving, you aren’t going to be worrying about the fact that you don’t have any friends – it’s just not the priority.  But as soon as you’re well-fed, you’re likely to forget that you were ever hungry, preoccupied instead with your loneliness. That’s just how we’re wired.

So it takes a conscious effort to shift your focus to giving thanks for the problems that have already been solved.  One of my favorite prescriptions to facilitate this shift is the “Blessings Box.”  Every morning, wake up and write down five things you are grateful for that happened the day before.  This helps tremendously in training your mind to both expect and recognize the good in the upcoming day!

Then when you finish, fold up your blessings and put them in your Blessings Box, or jar, or whatever container you have.  At the end of the year, read through all of your blessings, and keep your favorite ones to reflect upon in the future.  I like to do this as a tradition on December 31st, giving thanks for the previous year and preparing to expect good things in the next.