The holidays are over. The year has turned. 2010 is upon us. Like many people, I tend to think about my life in general at the beginning of the year and one of the things that got me thinking this year was the trip to the snow. Lots of people go to the snow. Lots of people live in the snow and don't have to go anywhere except out their door to find it. I live in a place where it doesn't snow, so I went to the mountains with my family to give the grandchildren a few days delight.

And delighted they were. I loved the sight and sound of the children throwing snowballs and dodging from tree to tree. It was a joy - and for me the trip was also both very beautiful and quite sobering. I haven't been in the snow since I had the strokes 7 1/2 years ago. Most of the time people don't notice that I have physical challenges but I do. Walking in the snow and on the ice didn't leave any room for my pleasant fantasies about how able or physically challenged I might be. The facts were in my face if I was willing to look.

I am very much in favor of the power of positive thinking - looking for the possibilities in everything we encounter - but I am also very much in favor of taking into account what is true right now in this moment. Too many times I have seen positive thinking turn into magical thinking - if I just pretend that everything is going to be OK, it will be OK - the power of my attitude will determine absolutely everything.

I never found life to work that way. Nobody I know is that powerful - even the highly developed Buddhist teachers who have the attitude thing down in a way I never will. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true. The more we are willing to start from where we are - no magical thinking - the more likely our attitude will be able to influence the outcome of our situation.

It's as if we think that if we actually look at the awful truth we will lose our power to think positively - that we will get mired in the awfulness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Looking at what is real is what frees our ability to think positively. Otherwise we are paralyzed by our fear of what might be true and we use our energy to hide from ourselves. The more we look, just look, without labels and judgment, the more we know. The more we know, the more we can make positive decisions.

Snow - I have trouble walking in it. That's what is true. Ignoring the truth will find me sprawled in the snow with a few bruises as payment for my unwillingness to look. Looking deeper will tell me what physical disparities make the falling down likely - balance, coordination, strength. Now I have data. Now I have a choice. How important to me is it to be able to walk in the snow? What am I willing to do to make it happen?

Lots of exercise, finding someone who will hold my arm, using ski poles - what? When I realistically measure what's needed to make that happen - and understand if it is even reasonably possible to make that happen - then I know what I am dealing with and I can choose how I am going to use my energy. I only have so much energy I can use. Maybe, upon reflection I decide that 2 hours a day in the gym will make it possible. Maybe I decide that putting out all the effort to make regular walking in the snow possible is not how I want to use my energy. Maybe I would rather go on a boat and go fishing.

If I look with as much discernment and honesty at what is true right now as I am able, I have choices I can make. My life can be as rich as I want to make it if I am honest with myself.

Alison Bonds Shapiro, MBA, works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.

Author's Bio: 

Alison Bonds Shapiro, MBA, works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.

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