PTSD Vs. Maui Rules
Can Maui Rules make your life better?
By Jan Fishler
Several years ago, my husband and I took a long-deserved vacation to Hawaii. At the time he was newly diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and we were just beginning to understand the various situations that made him uncomfortable. It might be the smell of a certain perfume or cooking oil, the sound of a helicopter flying overhead, or even the laughter of children. Often these triggers were outside of our awareness, but the resulting tension was unmistakable. My husband would suddenly become irritable, and need to leave. All he would say was, “Let’s get out of here.”
While such behavior was life-saving for him, I often found it frustrating, and in an effort to placate him, I would say things that seemed to make the situation worse. On one occasion, something about the waiter at a restaurant reminded him of a buddy who was killed in action – but at the time, he was unable to explain this to me. He didn’t appreciate my suggestion to put his mind on something else – rather than on whatever it was that upset him – and I didn’t understand or appreciate his behavior.
Much later, while attending a wives-of-veterans support group, I learned more about PTSD – and he learned, through therapy, that he could control his reactions. But during the incident at the restaurant (and others like it), all I could do was go along with his need to leave.
On the way back to the hotel that day, a large poster in the window of a tourist shop caught our attention and provided some much needed insight. Prominently displayed at the top of the poster were the words Maui Rules. Our mood that moment was in direct contrast to the laid-back atmosphere of the island, and we were surprised to discover that Maui had rules at all. As we read the poster together, we discovered ten axioms to live by that not only lifted our spirits at the time, but have become guidelines for living in spite of the many “tests,” big and small, that life often brings our way.
Many of us spend time hoarding what we have, or acquiring more possessions, thinking that somehow these things will fill our emotional void. The problem with this approach is that “things” can never fill the hole.
Because the Maui Rules have been such a help to our family, I’ve written them up here, along with thoughts of what the rules mean to me.
Never judge a day by the weather
Overcast skies, severe storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes. The weather constantly changes – often quickly and unpredictably. It’s human nature to want consistency, and as a general rule, we don’t like the thought, much less the occurrence, of change. We want our friends, families, and acquaintances to be consistent and dependable, even though what we desire isn’t realistic. As we get older (and hopefully wiser), we can’t help but notice physical changes in our own bodies, and it’s easy to judge ourselves and others, and complain about situations that, in reality, are completely out of our control. When this occurs, I like to remind myself that acceptance is a kinder and gentler way to look at the annoying people or troubling situations. Eventually, just like a thunderstorm, things will change. As my grandmother used to say, “This too shall pass.”
The best things in life aren’t things
Many of us spend time hoarding what we have, or acquiring more possessions, thinking that somehow these things will fill our emotional void. The problem with this approach is that “things” can never fill the hole. What we are really looking for is a connection with others, the feeling of belonging, and memorable experiences. Whenever I feel like I need retail therapy, I first take a few moments to step outside, appreciate nature (even if it’s pouring rain), and get some fresh air. Appreciating what I have often fills the temporary void, and keeps me from going out to acquire more things that I really don’t need.
Tell the truth – there’s less to remember
This axiom is one of the most difficult to implement, because most of us have learned to protect ourselves by telling those little white lies that allow us to keep the peace or avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Of course, it’s not necessary to be brutally honest and tell your wife you never did like her meat loaf, or to tell your husband that he’s not getting any younger. But I believe it’s important to always tell the truth about your own feelings. Rather than slamming doors or remaining silent for days on end, it’s a lot easier to say something like, “I’m feeling hurt right now,” or “I feel sad when you ignore me.”
Speak softly and wear a loud shirt
There are many ways to get your point across, but many of us think we have to raise our voices to be noticed or heard. This is not the case. If you need to be noticed, then by all means, wear something bright and bold like a Hawaiian shirt – but if you have something important to say, and really want people to listen, then a calm demeanor and a quiet voice is the most convincing. This can be especially difficult when emotions are stirred up or your blood is boiling. In this case, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation and take a few deep breaths. Walk around the block until you feel calm enough to speak in a soft voice.
Goals are deceptive – the un-aimed arrow never misses
I’m one of those people who make to-do lists, and then frets because I can’t get everything done. As a result, I often let my tasks get in the way of enjoying those opportunities that come up at the spur of the moment. While it’s important to have a vision of how you would like things to go, it’s also nice to be flexible enough to smell the roses while they’re blooming. If you’re always working, doing, and getting things done, remember that there’s more to life than checking off items on your list. When opportunities arise, think about taking a break and being spontaneous.
You might have a great house, a fancy car, lots of money in the bank, and a garage full of high-powered tools, but is this the legacy you want to leave behind?
He who dies with the most toys – still dies
When all is said and done, regardless of what you’ve acquired, how do you want to be remembered? You might have a great house, a fancy car, lots of money in the bank, and a garage full of high-powered tools, but is this the legacy you want to leave behind? What traits and attributes are really important? Are kindness, compassion, and understanding on your list? What about generosity and forgiveness? So often we are involved in acquiring more and more, and we forget about what matters most. The good news – if you’re still alive – there’s time to create a meaningful legacy.
Age is relative – when you’re over the hill, you pick up speed
As we age, our bodies slow down, and many people just give up doing the things they love, and resign themselves to watching television, or become depressed and make others miserable. But there are many late bloomers who begin careers when others consider them to be “over the hill.” For example, the painter, Grandma Moses, didn’t pick up a paintbrush until she was seventy years old. The point here is that age is only a factor if you let it stop you. You might have to make some adjustments, but instead of succumbing to aches and pains, consider taking the poet William Blake’s approach and, “Rage against the dying of the light.”
There are two ways to be rich – make more or desire less
There is beauty in simplicity and a lot less to clean up. Desiring less is always an option. It alleviates pressure, and provides freedom and flexibility. The less you have, the less you have to worry about. The less you worry, the happier you are. One of my favorite activities is hiking in the woods with my dog. While we’re out enjoying the beauty of the trees, the clean air, and the sounds of birds singing, it makes no difference how much money I have (or don’t have). Consider how you measure your wealth. Ask yourself what truly makes you happy, and then make sure you take time to do it.
Creating a beautiful life takes effort, but it can be as easy as choosing the path of tranquility rather than reactivity. When confronted by upsets or negative triggers, it’s always best to choose the high road of compassion and empathy over the low road of reactivity and anger.
Beauty is internal – looks mean nothing
Looks change, but the inner qualities that we admire most in people endure. This is where appreciation and gratitude rather than negativity and complaints make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. Creating a beautiful life takes effort, but it can be as easy as choosing the path of tranquility rather than reactivity. When confronted by upsets or negative triggers, it’s always best to choose the high road of compassion and empathy over the low road of reactivity and anger. Remember, we all carry the keys to a beautiful life inside ourselves. We just have to use them.
No rain – no rainbows
When life gives us pain and sorrow, it’s important to remember that suffering doesn’t have to last forever, and that contentment, happiness, and even joy are always possible. Sometimes it’s difficult to see our way out of the darkness and into the light, but it helps to remember that this duality is part of life and helps us appreciate and be grateful for the good. Without illness, there is no health. Without sadness there is no joy. And without rain, there are no rainbows.
Although you might not be able to vacation in Maui, you can take the Maui Rules with you wherever you go. They are an excellent pathway for overcoming life’s obstacles and for helping adjust your attitude – whenever you need it.
Jan Fishler is an author, writing coach, and creator/presenter of a series of writing workshops. Her memoir, Searching for Jane, Finding Myself, is available on Amazon. You can learn more about her at janfishler.com. She is married to a Vietnam veteran.