There’s a Bug in My Water! (And Other Unexpected Things)
So last month, just before starting a counselling session, I was happily serving water, as I have done thousands of times over my counselling career, when something unexpected happened—very unexpected. It was politely brought to my attention that there was a bug, alive and swimming for its life, in the glass of water that I had just served.
Now this is clearly a First World problem, but I reacted emotionally with a jolt and a feeling of shock, worry and deep embarrassment took over. The brain scrambles….I have no script for this…generate action plan…
- Apologize profusely to the client
- Remove water
- Dump water in plant in the hopes that bug has a chance of drying out and living
- Fill up new water jug and offer fresh water in new glass
- Allow emotions to arise without judging them
- Laugh (but only because the client was laughing, which was a relief)
- Start counselling session!
Later in the day I also used a little Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – very helpful in such situations. It went something like this:
Approximate number of sessions since I founded Willow Tree Counselling: 6400 (not including 10 years of counselling prior to Willow Tree Counselling), no previous incidences of bugs in water = incidence of bug episodes at Willow Tree Counselling: 0.00015625 percent.
Conclusion: very unlikely.
But at the time, it felt pretty significant and this is one of the gifts of cognitive behavioural therapy: the realization, ultimately, that feelings are not facts.
And yes, unexpected things do happen! Other rare events in my office have included:
- A glass in a cabinet spontaneously combusting (totally contained and no one was hurt)
- The lights going off in an evening session after a very important point had been made
- Fireworks outside (later discovered that it was related to the opening St Paul’s Hospital’s Lights of Hope)
All of the above may seem trivial, but to someone like myself who values efficiency and stability, such things can be disorienting! Some of you may be aware that I chose the name Willow Tree Counselling for my practice because I love the analogy of the Willow branch: it bends and flexes in response to worldly conditions: something I have been working on all my life. There has been great value for me in learning flexibility and adaptability and this is something I continue to work on.
And I also recognize that, unlike bugs in water, there are unexpected things in life that are truly difficult, if not devastating to cope with, including:
Such events are not merely a matter of developing a quick strategy and changing our view on things, as I did above. Healing takes time and adjustment and it is very individual.
This article is about the day-to-day stuff.
I have come to a few conclusions over the years, which may or may not resonate for you:
- Life is in a constant state of change and flux and that trying to force it to comply to our desires results in emotional suffering when we become faced with the unexpected.
- Nothing is fixed (a variation of the above): things wear out, people grow and change, trends fall away and new ones start – wanting things to stay the same is natural, but ultimately impossible.
- I cannot change others; all I ultimately have control over is how I respond to things. This ultimately is very liberating!
- When I am the cause of something unexpected, even if it’s accidental, take responsibility. It can be tempting to avoid situations when we’re embarrassed or to deny that they even happened but this only complicates things and typically leaves other people feeling disrespected or minimized.
- Find humour whenever possible. Sometimes humour isn’t appropriate or may even be tacky, but when it’s clearly not, it can be a relief and help lighten the mood for all concerned. Dire situations excluded, life needn’t be treated like a relentless death march.
- Find our place of stillness. We all have the option of ‘sitting still’ within and finding our calm place, even when the world seems to be swirling out of control. This benefits both us, and those around us. And paradoxically, I have found, at least for myself, that it is not even necessary to “feel still” in order to “be still.” Lovely when it coincides, but not a requirement!
Interested in getting my articles delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up to my newsletter, The Listening Ear.