The first time I met my future mother-in-law, I was sixteen years old. My hands shook as I carried a homemade pecan pie up the front steps of her home. It was our first meeting, and I'd only been dating her soon for about two weeks. He was turning 17 and this was the big family event of the season, and I was on the arm of the guest of honor.
She looked me up and down, gave a terse grin and invited me inside. I should have known from that initial encounter that this would be a difficult relationship, and that notion has since proven true. I followed that same boy to college a few years later, then to the alter only three months after we graduated. We have two children now and still live in the same, sleepy town. We're crazy about each other, but if we do argue about anything, it's my strained relationship with the other woman in his life.
At her core, she means incredibly well. She's a great listener, shares in the passions of others and is always looking to learn. Yet, there are some people whose negative outlook can't help but cloud every aspect of their lives. There are feelings of resentment and of bitterness. There are unfair judgments and hurtful assumptions and the feeling like I may never measure up.
In the past, I've let such negativity directly impact my outlook. Of course, this isn't the first pessimistic person I've come across in my 31 years. I've had plenty of friends, family members and especially co-workers who have shared in my mother-in-laws sentimentality. When I was younger, a single unkind remark was enough to completely unravel me for the rest of the day. I can count on one hand the elementary school teachers who called me down and what they said. I've never forgotten the sting of embarrassment.
Now? I can tell that my skin is thicker. It takes much more to wear me down and break me. I can take an unkind comment in stride. On those days when it feels as though the world is absolutely against me, I can run a hot bath, close my eyes and tune out all the distractions, reminding myself that tomorrow is a new day.
Maybe it has something to do with getting older. I've heard celebrities say that once you reach a certain age, you stop caring so much about what other people think of you. Or, perhaps this newfound contentment came about as a result of becoming a mother. With two children underfoot, I don't exactly have the luxury of time to wallow in my upset emotions.
While these could be contributing factors, I believe that what has helped me hold steadfast to my positivity as much as the world tries to push back against it is that I've been able to tune my inner compass more directly toward that light. I've made spreading happiness and emulating joy my focus and my priority. In return, I've found that even the darkest and heaviest scenarios are still met with a silver lining. This type of mentality achieved by activating one's Reticular Activating System or RAS.
In short, this is a network of nerve pathways located in your brainstem. It is responsible for filtering out unnecessary information and allowing you to focus on just what's important. Have you ever been at a loud party and listened intently to every single conversation going on around you? No way! Your brain would be overloaded with tons of impertinent data.
While that's a scientific explanation, the truth is that understanding how RAS works is as simple as the mantra "You get that which you welcome." If you welcome greed, negativity or bitterness, it will seem as if those storms follow you around everywhere you go. On the other hand, you might spread sunshine solely because it's what you personally choose to focus on. My mom is this way. Even if I sit at her kitchen counter and spill my sob story, she'll find some way to spin the instances into a positive slant.
I'm not sure I'll ever get along fully with my mother-in-law. We have vastly different tastes, personalities and goals though we can both agree that one particular guy is pretty special. As we work toward mending and improving our relationship, I intend to apply the RAS logic to my own lifestyle. I will embrace and accept love, light and encouragement and just as freely, I will give it away.