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Let's Make Lemonade

Let’s Make Lemonade, by Rev. Teresa Stueflot

Have you heard the phrase, “When Life gives you lemons, make Lemonade.”? It’s about optimism. It’s about positive thinking. It’s about affirming the truth of how things really are at the root, not judging by temporary and changing appearances and illusions, not jumping to the conclusion that things are bad and will probably get worse!

Optimists are people who expect good things to happen. Pessimists brace themselves for the worst.

Rumi said “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” That’s optimism! And it’s the Truth!

We know in Divine Science that we create our reality. It is our habitual thoughts that create our life. The Divine Science Spiritual Psychology course says, “Each one of us is attracting or repelling according to our mental attitude. We are identifying with abundance or lack, love or indifference. We attract into our world of experience the sum-total of our thoughts. And we - the individualized expression of God, according to our awareness of our oneness with God - are the sole creators of this world of experience.”

“Supply is inside, not outside! What returns from the outside is but a reflection of what we have accepted for ourselves on the inside. It is all a matter of consciousness (what we are conscious of being and having), and a change of consciousness brings with it a corresponding change in the results we experience.”

Rumi said: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

I just finished reading The Choice, Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a survivor of the Holocaust, who was in Auschwitz. She was separated from both of her parents they were both killed in gas gas chambers. Edith and her sister were able to stay together and they both survived.

On the train Edith’s mother told her, “We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away from you what you put in your mind.” Edith’s reflection on this is, “We can’t choose to vanish the dark, but we can choose to kindle the light.” Edith survived the Holocaust with her positive mind and her optimistic attitudes.

Edith’s father had an optimistic attitude. As he was walking away from her he said that they would work a little while and then the war would be over. He thought it would all be temporary.

She says “While everyone around me- SS officers, kapos, fellow inmates- told me every moment of every day, from morning to the end of the work day, from selection lines to meal lines, that I would never get out of the death camp alive, I worked to develop an inner voice that offered an alternative story. This is temporary, I’d tell myself. If I survive today, tomorrow I will be free.”

Edith says of their time in Auschwitz “…to survive is to transcend your own needs and commit yourself to someone or something outside yourself…It is no exaggeration to say I live for my sister. It is no exaggeration to say that my sister lives for me.” Each one had a sense of purpose in helping the other to survive. They got only one meal of thin broth and a piece of bread to eat. Edith began saving her bread from the evening meal so that she & her sister could share it in the morning.

Edith was only 16 when she was sent to Auschwitz. She had studied ballet before her imprisonment. In Auschwitz she was made to dance for Dr Mengele. “Little dancer, dance for me.” He directed the musicians to begin playing The Blue Danube waltz. She closed her eyes and imagined she was on stage at the Budapest Opera House. She says “As I dance, I discover a piece of wisdom that I have never forgotten. I will never know what miracle of grace allows men this insight. It will save my life many times, even after the horror is over. I can see that Dr Mengele, the seasoned killer sho just this morning murdered my mother, is more pitiful than me. I am free in my mind, which he can never be. He will always have to live with what he’s done. He is more a prisoner than I am. As I close my routine with a final, graceful split, I pray, but it isn’t myself I pray for. I pray for him. I pray for his sake, that he won’t have the need to kill me.

He must be impressed by my performance because he tosses me a loaf of bread… I share the bread with Magda (her sister) and our bunk mates. I am grateful to have bread. I am grateful to be alive.”

Edith says she has learned that “…suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional. There is a difference between victimization and victimhood. We are all likely to be victimized in some way in the course of our lives…In contrast, victimhood comes from inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We become victims not because of what happens to us but when we choose to hold on to our victimization. We develop a victim’s mind - a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive, and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailers when we choose the confines of the victim’s mind.”

“We can’t erase the pain. But we are free to accept who we are and what was done to us, and move on…You can choose to live in the prison of the past, or you can let the past be the springboard that helps you reach the life you want now… We can choose to be our own jailers or we can choose to be free.”

Though it took years of first hiding her trauma, and then facing her pain, Edith eventually went to college, earning a PhD in clinical psychology. She says “I began to formulate a new relationship with my own trauma. It wasn’t something to silence, suppress, avoid, negate. It was a well I could draw on, a deep source of understanding and intuition about my patients, their pain, and the path to healing. My first years on private practice helped me reframe my wound as something necessary and useful.”

Edith went on to become a skilled and admired psychologist. Years later she was asked to speak at a conference for 600 Army chaplains for a clinical pastoral retreat at an Armed Forces Recreation Center in the General Walker Hotel high in the mountains Bavaria, which had served as a guest house and meeting place for Hitler’s SS officers. She and her husband were provided accommodations at the nearby Hotel zum Turken, which had once been reserved for Hitler’s cabinet and diplomatic visitors. They are assigned to the room that Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, slept in, with the same bed, the same mirror and nightstand that once were his.

This trip, that Edith had initially declined, turned out to be the opportunity for her greatest healing. She walked the path that Hitler had walked, realizing that he was gone, but she had survived. She made the difficult decision to visit Auschwitz and found the means to forgive herself for the guilt she felt at her arrival there when Mengele had asked her if her mother was her mother or her sister. She had answered in her fear that this was her mother, and realized too late that adults under 40 were pushed to one line, and children and those over 40 went to another line that she later realized went to the gas chambers. Her mother had a smooth unlined face, and if Edith had realized she could have said her mother was her sister and her mother might have survived. Edith painfully forgave herself for what she did not understand as a scared 16 year old. She told her parents she loved them and would never forget them. She claimed her full freedom.

The book Making Lemonade says, “Optimists approach problems with confidence and a high expectation of success. They believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope, and manageable. In popular terms, optimists make lemonade out of lemons and see a glass as half-full, not half-empty.”

Positive Psychology with Martin Seligman studied what was right with people, what cause them to be optimistic and to thrive. They found:

“If we think a problem will have far-reaching, long lasting effects, we have a pessimistic explanatory style. Conversely, if we believe a problem is temporary and has only localized effects, we think optimistically.”

“Optimists solve problems and make decisions that lead them to accomplish goals.”

“Optimism can be learned.”

“Optimists view failures as opportunities for learning… Pessimists view failure as permanent, pervasive and personal, while optimists see it as temporary, specific, and non-personal”

“There is a gene for optimism. …a tendency to look on the bright side of life, …but it accounts for only 25% of our optimism.” Twin studies found that “the other 75% is determined by environment, social support, and learned behaviors.”

“The brain can be hardwired for optimism… learned optimism can rewire the pessimistic brain.”

“People are rarely across the board optimists or pessimists.”

“Realistic optimists acknowledge that problems exist, and they view mistakes as leaning opportunities.”

“Optimism strengthens the immune system, whereas pessimism weakens the immune system.”

“Optimistic people are more likely to follow health regimens and seek medical advice than pessimistic people.”

“Optimists tend to be action-oriented when facing and resolving negative events. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to be passive. They typically avoid dealing with negative life events, and they often do nothing to stop them once they have begun…As such, optimists amass fewer negative life events and avoid the illnesses caused by them.”

“Optimists have more social support than pessimists.”

“…Optimists live , on the average, 9 years longer than pessimists.”

“Multiple studies have concluded that optimistic children at all levels earn better grades, have higher test scores, and perform better academically than their pessimistic peers… optimism is positively related to children’s self-efficacy, problem-solving behaviors, and the ability to take risks and learn from their mistakes.”

“Optimism has been shown to have enormous positive effects on athletes at both the individual and team levels.”

“Optimists do better in their work lives & are more financially successful than their pessimistic peers… experience significantly better job search results…are more selective in choosing positions…more likely be promoted…better able to internalize negative feedback…and have better coping skills.”

“Optimism - the ability to stay positive while accepting reality - is one of the skills that boost… resilience.”

“Individuals with a growth mindset believe in working hard and sticking with a task or goal even when it is challenging. They think that if they keep trying and applying themselves they can eventually learn and reach their goals.”

“Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with optimism and greater happiness.”

“Happy and unhappy people generally encounter the same number of adverse events in their lives. But optimists are willing and able to interpret adverse events positively, leading to long-term happiness. Pessimistic people, on the other hand, focus on negativity and experience unhappiness. To be authentically happy, one needs to be optimistic.”

Seligman found that “people who don’t become helpless in the face of adversity look at events differently than those who succumb to helplessness. Resilient people interpret events in ways that lead them to optimistic behaviors and actions. In contrast, helpless people interpret events in ways that lead them to pessimistic behaviors and actions. Seligman termed this interpretive practice as explanatory style… the stories people use to explain the cause of any event - good or bad. These self-explanations predispose us to feel either pessimistic or optimistic. Our explanatory style thus become the prism through which we experience life either helplessly or hopefully.”

The Three P’s: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization … steer us toward optimism or pessimism…”

Permanence: “How long will the situation last?’

“Pessimists see adversity as permanent, all-reaching, and everlasting. In contrast, they view good fortune as a short-lived, temporary event.”

“Optimists see adversity as a temporary setback caused by a passing misfortune. They tend to see good fortune, on the other hand, as long-lasting.”

Pervasiveness: “How much of my life will this situation affect?”

“Pessimists tend to think that when problems arise, everything is ruined. On then other hand, they find the effect of good fortune to be greatly limited.”

“Optimists see the effects of a bad situation as limited. In contrast, they wee the effects of good events as far-reaching.”

Personalization: ‘Who or what cause the situation?”

“Pessimists tend to think they cause adverse events, even when logically that makes no sense. When something goes well, though, they believe that it is because of an outside event, not their own efforts.”

“Optimists tend to think that when something goes well, it is because of their own efforts. When a problem occurs, however, they find the reasons for the adversity outside themselves. Note: Because optimism needs to be rooted in reality, there are times when an optimist may be responsible for the adverse situation. Ion these cases, the optimist still puts the situation in perspective and figures out how to turn around the problem.”

“The difference: Optimists externalize the causes of bad situations, while pessimists blame themselves. When good fortune occurs, optimists see themselves as having controlled the situation while pessimists believe their good fortune is due to outside circumstances or other people.”

“We form our explanatory styles as young children…during the first few years of life. The concepts of optimism and pessimism emerge at around 10 months of age…remain fluid during preschool and kindergarten, is considered set by age 8, and will stay unchanged unless there is an intentional intervention or the child chooses modify their explanatory style as an adult. “

The ABCDE method can help us turn our explanatory style around so that we can make lemonade out of our lemons.

A is for the adverse effect.

B is for our beliefs and thoughts about the adverse effect.

C is for the consequences of having these thoughts & beliefs.

D is for disputation of the pessimistic beliefs.

E is for the energization that is experienced when negative thoughts are successfully disputed.

This explains how we create our reality. It is our habitual beliefs and tendencies that create our ability see the glass as either half-full or half-empty. It is our habitual beliefs that keep our lemons sours, or allow us to turn our lemons into lemonade. By bringing awareness to our tendencies and our explanatory style and approach to life, we can turn our life around and have more happiness if we choose to. Dr Edith Eva Eger would have had every reason to hold onto her lemons. No one would have blamed her after what she went through in the Holocaust. But her ability to think positively and take responsibility for her own thoughts allowed her to heal and turn her lemons into lemonade. As she says, It’s a choice.

“Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” Hafiz

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