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Love and chunder: how to reframe bad times

Reframing bad times can help get you through them – even if those bad times are coming out of you.

Cory Zanoni
Cory Zanoni
2 min read
A unwell woman lying in the lap of a person dressed in black, who's holding a bowl of soup.
The Legend of Sister Beatrix, Tony Johannot (1846).

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One recent Friday night, I found my myself vomiting under a tree.

I hadn’t had a rowdy night (I don’t even drink), but I was getting over a stomach bug and tempted fate by eating a service-station spinach roll.

About 15 minutes earlier I had thrown up out of a car window, going about a 100km/h down the Calder Freeway. It was… not a great look. My partner parked me on a grassy verge - under my friendly tree - while she went to clean the car and buy some travel-sickness meds.

Chucking up love

A few days earlier, I had started using programmer Spencer Chang’s “i love living” phone shortcut. Whenever you feel the joy of life, you tap the app icon and the shortcut attached your location and the date to a note called “i love living”.

I felt pretty miserable, sitting there on the grass with the smell of vomit on my left shoulder and the sensory memory of a chunk of food bouncing off my hand as it catapulted to the Calder Highway.

But I remembered the‘I love living’ shortcut and, welp, I do. Even when I’m puking. It’s better than the alternative. So I tapped it, squatted next to the tree and snapped a selfie to go with the note.

Reframing bad times

There’s no way to say this without being trite. But, sometimes, we get to decide how we feel about things.

As we’ve spoken about before, the way you describe your life will be the way you live it. That can extend to the way you think about a situation.

Many thoughts and feelings bubble up and, if left to their own devices, float away. Sometimes, you can pause, take a step back, and actively decide to reframe whatever’s happening to you.

To paraphrase the philosopher Alan Watts, you are whatever you’re paying attention to. If you can shift your attention, you can shift your experience. It won’t always be smooth, it won’t always work, but it might be option.[1]

Actions help shift attention

T. P. Kasulis, a former director of Ohio State University’s Center for the Study of Religion, described the goal of Zen Buddhism as a sense of immediacy. It’s about trying to live in the present free of assumptions and preconceived ideas.

You can’t really think your way through that. And actively trying to not think – you know, thinking about not thinking – doesn’t work.

Functionally, it splits your mind in two: one part of your mind is thinking, another part tries to stand against it. Bankei, a Japanese Zen Master from the 1600s, described it vividly: “Brushing off thoughts which arise is just like washing off blood with blood.” Either way, your hands are dirty.

Having something to do helps. It helps focus your attention. That’s why following your breath is a classic: it helps centre you in your body, breaking the false mind/body dualism, and brings you into the moment.

Breath alone didn’t help me that Friday night. Hey, it’s a process. But tapping “i love living” took my nausea and vomit and made them positive. They became proof I’m here. Even if my selfie game needs some work.

  1. Your mileage may vary, depending on your neurology. Some brains just straight up don’t do this. ↩︎

Cory Zanoni Twitter

Writer, teacher, tired.