Different and yet the same

We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same – Anne Frank

This would be an easy quote to read on your daily calendar and forget in an instant. It bears more scrutiny most of all because of the author – Anne Frank. When I was her age at school in England, we were made to study the book, made all the more compelling by the connection in our age. We could relate to her and yet of course we absolutely could not. She was hidden from the Nazis in an attic in Holland for 2 years with the threat of discovery and death hanging over her and little but her loved ones and the meagre possessions around her for entertainment. She was at an age (13 – 15) where certainly nowadays you would want to start being independent of your family and yet she was forced into the complete opposite. She appreciated them all the more because it was all she had.

Imagine if most of the things we currently love, value and take for granted and those we think we are striving for were suddenly taken off the table? I often think about that actually. Imagine you had a stroke and became ‘locked in’ to your body? What would you do then? Imagine you were hideously disfigured in an accident and assumed you would never find romantic love again? It’s like the opposite of the ‘imagine if you won the lottery’. A useful exercise either way to put things in perspective. What a lot to think about. I have heard that if either a tragedy or a lottery win happen to you, that within 2 years you return to the same level of happiness you had before. What is that level of happiness you have right now? Are you prepared to live with that for the rest of your life? Is it worth cherishing because now is life, (Joy Is Now of course) right here, right now?

You can’t escape yourself (your attitudes etc) no matter how far away you go because you take your thinking with you. To me this says it’s all the more important to examine what’s in your mind basket. What attitudes and feelings are you taking with you? What situations keep on appearing in your life as a direct result of what you bring to the table? If you had something nasty growing on your skin which you feared might be the end of you, would you not eventually go to a doctor to sort it out? The problem with insidious, negative thinking is that it is not always visible, like a virus inside your body. Sure you can see the results of it – the sniffles or a cough etc, but until you take a closer look and work on the cause not the symptoms (being unhappy perhaps) it won’t go away.

Two years ago I went to a one day seminar by Ben Harvey in Australia. He taught us that the way to have a higher happier resting state, after the tragedy or lottery effects had worn off was to use what he termed Imaginaction yes, a combination of Imagination and Action, I didn’t spell it wrong. He is saying that everything happens twice. First in your head and then in real life. You get a thought (action) – I’d like to eat lunch – and then you actually eat lunch (action). Twice. Imagination is critical as it allows you a chance to practice for an event and not spike (and therefore not be crashed back down by your nervous system). By practising imagining the things you want, including being happier, you are changing the hardwiring in your brain to accept those things. You are getting your head around them, ‘creating new grooves’ outside the boundaries of your actual brain cells and physically affecting your nervous system. You comfort zone grows (around how to cope with loss or gain). Apparently everyone experiences a crash after a big high. You go back to what your brain knows; what you expect out of life. He suggests leaving triggers and reminders around so that you remember what you want and take action to get some of what you want. Triggering your imagination triggers action. Barbara Sher also suggests for us Scanners (multi-interested people) to leave ‘avocation stations’ around – small ‘kits’ of some of the things we love to do, ready to go and enjoy for even just a few minutes, to remind ourselves to take the time to be happy. We don’t have to wait until we get a chunk of time and conditions are just right to do what we love and be happy. Otherwise with the amount of interests I have (about 400) I would feel overwhelmed by my life, thinking I will never ever get to pursue them.

Anyway I digress of course. Back to Anne Frank. One particular thing I remember from the book (remember I only read it at school 33 years ago – and now I want to reread it) is that she wanted to give her family Christmas presents but she only had available what was in the attic. With love and care she made gifts out of what she could find, examining each object I imagine for its inherent value as a gift and using her imagination to create something else. What a great thing to do with our things, our lives, ourselves. Where are the gifts in your life? And how can you use your imagination to make the most of them?

When Anne says our lives are different, she could not be more accurate. How many people experienced what she did – hidden from mortal danger in that way? And yet like Victor Frankl in the Nazi Camps, she managed to keep her spirit. She didn’t know it but her mind – her innocence, attitude, tolerance and imagination among other qualities – stayed the same and kept her going through the ordeal. Hopefully few of us will be faced with such events and have to test what mental reserves we actually have. But it can also be a godsend to some, with the right thinking. And I call it right, I judge it as right because they are happy, thriving, energised. More than most people. Often people deemed as heroes who react quickly in an emergency, are not recognised as such in their day to day lives and they say ‘anyone would have done that’ given the circumstances. I like to think I would. I like to think we all would. I believe we all would if we went by gut instinct and not irrational fear.

Anyway Anne was obviously a huge thinker, an explorer of everything and luckily for us, a journal writer. She was forced in a way to examine life and people more closely and came to realise at such a young age that we are all the same; that the differences on the outside – what we do and have – simply mask that there are no differences on the inside. She championed tolerance. We hopefully don’t need a huge life change for the ‘worse’ (depending on how you judge it of course) to teach us these lessons. If you are reading this, you may be looking for answers already which means you are 9/10 of the way there. Congratulations.

PS my son is now up so I asked him what he knew about Anne Frank. “Jewish person hidden from the Nazis in an attic.” He was made to read it in year 6 apparently – age about 12 – but didn’t realise why – that she was also a young child when she wrote it.