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Bungees, gazebos and psychological flexibility

"The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists." - Japanese Proverb.

Built implicitly into the mindfulness approach (and explicitly in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), is the practice of working towards psychological flexibility. We are aiming to step back from craving total control over the events in our lives, from wanting things to be ‘just so’ or the way I want them to be, and closer to a moment-to-moment noticing how things actually are, and working with that. The important principle is that it’s not the events themselves that cause our suffering; it’s how we respond to them that determines our state of mind.

I was reminded of this when I put up our gazebo last year. The weather was a little bit unpredictable – blazing hot on some days, and pouring rain on others. We’ve got a brilliant garden table/BBQ firepit which we use for chilled friendly gatherings, and putting a gazebo over it seemed like the ideal summer protection. And it was. Except that the guy ropes tethering the gazebo to the earth/fence/shed were not designed to withstand the fierce winds we had. They put up a brave fight, but they were no match for the elements and, despite continually tightening and adjusting them, they quite soon just snapped. Bless them – they were trying to hold on to the canvas covering too, too tightly. It was touching, actually, watching their struggle to do their job, and try to ensure that the gazebo didn’t fly away in the wind. Anyway, I looked out one morning to see a sad, tangled heap of poles and canvas. Some of the poles had actually been bent by the tempest. The one good thing was that the gazebo was still in our garden, and not in someone else’s. Most of the strings had snapped under the strain. The tension was just too much for them. Initially, I was sad at the sight; irritated that I’d have to put the whole wretched thing up again, and have to buy new poles; angry that I’d possibly have to go out and buy a new gazebo.

And then I remembered bungees.

How about applying some of the stuff I teach on my mindfulness courses to this very real and pressing ‘first world’ problem? J It would certainly reduce my blood pressure – I was sure of that.

Bungees – the wind blows this way and that way, and then the other way – bungees are OK with that. They’ll go whichever way the wind blows, and come back when the wind blows the other way.

So, I went to B&Q and got some bungees of varying lengths, attached them to the newly-erected gazebo, in place of the guy ropes.

I’ve never looked back. And our gazebo has never since fallen down. It gets blown this way, that way, and then the other way, but it’s always standing, ready to protect us from the sun and the rain, while we enjoy our barbecued halloumi/chicken/hamburger and firepit glow.

Life gets stormy sometimes – we get blown this way and that way. We could stay rigid, taut, and say “Things shouldn’t be like this!”; “I want things to stay exactly as they are”. Or we could learn to adapt our outlook and accept things as they actually are.

Getting a bungee mind – I can recommend it.

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