A few weeks ago, I spoke a little about the peaks and valleys of my own life; that I was in a current valley, longingly looking at a peak I want to be on. The photo above shows the natural peaks and valleys of Ecuador. As I enjoyed the beauty of the photo, it struck me that valleys are as beautiful as peaks. Valleys provide shade; they are generally moister than peaks and are therefore havens for plants and animals, teaming with life. Valleys are fertile ground for new things.
The photo shows peaks and valleys in Nature. But of course, the peaks and valleys we experience in our lives are as natural. What is unnatural are flat plateaus. In Spencer’s book “Peaks and Valleys”, he likens peaks and valleys to the cycle of our own heartbeat, and plateaus to the absence of a heartbeat. In other words, peaks and valleys represent life; they cannot be avoided, because to avoid them – to level them – means death. Literally!
There is a Taoist story about a farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his only horse ran away. When his neighbors heard, they sympathetically said “What bad luck!”. The farmer replied “Maybe”. Next morning the horse returned bringing with it three wild horses. “How wonderful” cried his neighbors. He replied “Maybe”. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the wild horses and was thrown and broke his leg. It meant his son could no longer help with chores. Yet the day after military officers came to draft young men. The farmer’s son was passed by because of his broken leg. The story continues in much the same way.
Spencer’s story is similar. His message is about what we do with what we get. It truly is a very practical guide to living well. There are a lot of messages out there that focus only on making whatever is into something positive, and that misses not only the riches we gain from facing the negatives, but the simple fact that positives cannot exist without negatives. And when we are in our own valleys, it doesn’t help to say it’s really somehow positive; what helps is to know it is part of what makes life possible.
Here’s what I learned from his book and his story, and what I want to pass on to you.
1. Peaks and valleys aren’t simply the things that happen to us, they are also how we feel about and respond to those things. Peaks are times when we can appreciate what we have and enjoy the rewards of success; valleys are times when we can learn from past experiences and prepare for our next inevitable peak.
2. To make the most of our peaks and valleys, always seek the truth about the situation – what is the truth about it for you, now? Avoiding the truth about a painful situation will only ensure it happens again.
3. When in the valley, find and use the good hidden in the bad time. You know that being in a valley is going to end, so make use of it’s fertile ground. Just as in a physical valley, the decay of dead plants is fertilizer for new growth.
4. When on a peak, appreciate and manage the good times wisely. Be humble because peaks don’t last forever either. They can’t last. So be grateful for those times and be prepared for the next fertile valley.
5. The secret to getting to the next peak: Follow your sensible vision. See it, taste it, smell, hear and touch it. Make it real and alive with detail, and this will help you enjoy (vs. endure) doing what it takes to get there.
6. To make it last, pass it forward. Share it with others, and every time you do so, you make it more real and solid for everyone.
An example from my own life. Last May I became ill with something that baffled my doctor and left me often helpless. It made me change how I lived and worked, and limited what was possible for me. I tried everything I could think of to get well again – detoxes, herbs, healings, medication, specialist advice – some things seemed to work temporarily but nothing really lasted. Then I went on holiday to Ecuador. My symptoms vanished. It may have been the new environment, my temporary freedom from worries, coincidence. Whatever it was, I was delighted. Then the day after I returned home, my symptoms returned much worse and more debilitating that they had been before I left.
What I learned. My physical condition and then my vacation gave me time to be with myself; and when I got back the strong return of my physical problems alarmed me enough to take action. For once, I ignored my brain, and went with my gut. It wasn’t until a while later that I really got what the issue was, and it was only because I went to the very bottom of this particular valley that I found what I needed to gain the next peak.
I am using Dr. Johnson’s suggestions to see what more I can glean from the valley I was in, and start growing my sensible vision. I hope you can use this as I have done, and that your life begins to grow as a result. I would love to hear from you.
Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit http://www.thejoyofliving.co for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.