Self-Care 101: Dr. Seuss on Dealing with Challenge

I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew

If you’ve followed my blog in the last year, you’ve probably noticed that I have a bit of a reader’s crush on Dr. Seuss.  That has been true all my life, but in the past few years, I have been struck by the powerful wisdom about self-care and interpersonal relationships that are embedded in these fantastically illustrated children’s books.  I routinely turn to my Suess shelf when I need inspiration for a post.  However, this summer, I stumbled across a Suess tale I’d never seen before.  I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew was published in 1965.

In this book we are introduced to the narrator, a young Suess-ian creature who lives in the Valley of Vung, and describes life this way:

And nothing, not anything ever went wrong
Until . . . well, one day I was walking along
And I guess I got careless.  I guess I got gawking
At daisies and not looking where I was walking . . .
 
And that’s how it started.
Sock! What a shock!
I stubbed my big toe
On a very hard roc
And I flew through the air
And I went for a sail
And I sprained the main bone
In the tip of my tail

 

The narrator’s next words were the ones that really hooked me into looking at this book as the basis for a post.

Now, I never had ever had
Troubles before.
So I said to myself,
“I don’t want any more.
If I watch out for rocks
With my eyes straight ahead,
I’ll keep out of trouble
Forever,” I said.

Trying to Avoid Pain

This response to pain, challenge, or trouble is one that many of us experience.  When we have been hurt by someone or something, our reflexive response is to try to avoid that person or situation.  For example, when I’ve worked with clients during divorce or after the death of a loved one, one reaction is to say something along the lines of, “I never want to be married again!”  We have this response with physical pain as well–once you’ve been burned, you tend to treat fire (or the stove) with more respect.

There is an important difference between physical pain and emotional pain.  Physical pain is something that can be worked around or avoided in many situations.  Emotional pain is simply a part of human relationships.  Since we can’t perfectly anticipate or meet one another’s needs in all situations, we experience hurt or disappointment.  Since we don’t always love equally, we experience loss and broken hearts.

When we try to organize our lives to avoid emotional pain, we often create new or different kinds of pain.  The narrator experienced this too:

But, watching ahead . . .
Well it just didn’t work.
I was watching those rocks.  Then I felt a hard jerk.
A very fresh green-headed Quilligan Quail
Sneaked up from in back and went after my tail!
 
And I learned there are troubles
Of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead
And some come from behind.

 

The narrator tries several different challenging ways to avoid trouble, but it always seems to have a new angle to come at her/him.  My clients have told me similar stories, where one attempt to protect themselves creates new challenges, until they begin to feel that they just can’t escape the pain that seems to surround them.  When you feel that overwhelmed and under attack, it’s easy to look for a magic fix–a simple, pain-free way out.  In the book, that opportunity is presented to the narrator by a traveler:

“Young fellow,” he said, “what has happened to you
Has happened to me and to other folks, too.
So I’ll tell you what I have decided to do . . .
I’m off to the City of Solla Sollew
On the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo,
Where they never have troubles!  At least, very few.”

 

I think that each of us has sought our own City of Solla Sollew at least once in our lives.  Whether it is a diet program that is guaranteed to work, or a job that will change our lives, or a vow to avoid all relationships–we’ve been seduced by the idea that if we just follow some clearly outlined steps, we can avoid trouble and strife going forward.

Avoidance Doesn’t Always Work

The narrator quickly learns that seeking a trouble-free spot is a path that has troubles of its own.  On the quest to reach Solla Sollew, the camel becomes ill, there are large mountains, there’s a huge flood, the narrator is conscripted into an army and then abandoned, and there is a frightening journey through a dark tunnel.  When the narrator finally arrives on the “banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo,” the gatekeeper to Solla Sollew is facing a new problem.

“There is only one door into Solla Sollew
And we have a Key-Slapping Slippard.  We do!
This troublesome Slippard moved into my door
Two weeks ago Tuesday at quarter to four.
Since then I can’t open this door any more!”

 

After a long and perilous journey to reach Solla Sollew, the narrator is faced with the reality that problems exist everywhere.  That reality is one that most of us struggle with.  In some ways, it feels easier to believe that, if we can just crack the code, follow the steps, listen to directions, then we can be free of our pain.  Like the narrator, we are often willing to suffer quite a bit in our efforts to avoid pain.  And, like the narrator, we will eventually find ourselves faced with the realization that no amount of running will avoid the pain entirely.  The gatekeeper of Solla Sollew has this to say:

“I’m leaving,” he said, “leaving Solla Sollew
On the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo,
Where we never have troubles, at least very few.
And I’m off to the city of Boola Boo Ball
On the banks of the beautiful River Woo-Wall
Where they never have troubles! No troubles at all!
Come on along with me,” he said as he ran,
“And you’ll never have any more troubles, young man!”

When We Face Our Troubles

The temptation to run means that we are stuck always seeking the next Solla Sollew.  We’re looking for the answers while we’re in motion.  We’re letting others override our own internal wisdom.  Our desire to avoid pain means that we’re ignoring our own instincts.  This is what the narrator tells us, after a bit of thinking:

Then I started back home
To the Valley of Vung.
I know I’ll have troubles.
I’ll, maybe, get stung.
I’ll always have troubles.
I’ll, maybe, get bit
By that Green-Headed Quail
On the place where I sit.

 

I like this paragraph for several reasons.  By returning home, the narrator acknowledges that troubles are a part of life.  But, if you look at the wording, when the narrator talks about getting stung or getting bit, both of those are prefaced by a “maybe.”  The narrator is acknowledging the possibility of trouble, without allowing a sense of fatalism to take over.  Here are the final words the narrator shares with us:

But I’ve brought a big bat.
I’m all ready, you see.
Now my troubles are going
To have trouble with me!

 

And that paragraph is why I believe that Dr. Seuss has so many life lessons for those who are paying attention.  In the final analysis, while we can’t avoid trouble entirely, we can choose to face our troubles with a sense of our own personal power.  Being empowered does not mean we don’t experience pain, but it does mean that the emotional impact, the sense of helplessness, may be diminished as we do so.

So, as you think about your life, what trouble are you facing down today?  What coping tools are your favorite “bats” for trouble?  I can’t wait to hear.

 
 

 

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