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Expect the Unexpected

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

By Oran Aviv

Expect the Unexpected

Our mindset can help us reach new heights, but it can also keep us from reaching our potential. Our attitude can affect how we feel and how we relate to others.

I just returned from a wonderful break in Chamonix, in the French Alps under the tallest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc.

Even while on vacation we can learn life lessons. I learned the importance of never assuming anything, being open to all possibilities, and realizing that even mistakes can lead to something positive.

So here are some thoughts and lessons along with photos of this beautiful area we were fortunate to hike in.

Stay Open to All Possibilities

We had planned on hiking in Chamonix in June 2020, but of course that trip was cancelled due to the pandemic. We recently received a notice from the airline that our voucher was about to expire. It was not a good time for us to go away since we had another trip coming up soon, but we decided to rebook our flight rather than lose the voucher.

Only after booking the flight, I looked at the weather forecast. It showed that it would be rainy almost every day in Chamonix, with thunderstorms throughout the day. That not only meant we would have to hike in rain, but it meant we might not even see the beautiful views of whitecapped Mont Blanc the entire time we would be there!

Then, in the last minute, we realized that the person who was supposed to watch our dog, explained that the elevator in her building wasn’t working. Our dog has difficulty going up and down stairs.

Between the stairs, the poor weather, and the timing, I really considered calling this whole trip off, but instead I decided to just look past all the obstacles and hope everything would turn out well. The elevator worked the whole time at the dog sitter’s building and she was fine.

The weather was gorgeous, and we only had light rain one time during the night. We enjoyed the most amazing views:

A photo of a snow covered mountain (Mont Blanc) on a clear day without any clouds
Mont Blanc with no clouds

The timing meant some stress, trying to catch up on work when I returned, but the trip also recharged me and I have more energy.

Despite all the possible mishaps, I’m so thankful we decided to go to Chamonix and experience the snow covered mountains, the beautiful hiking trails and time to just relax and enjoy the miracles of nature.

Assuming Can Lead to Misunderstanding

We flew with a low-cost airline which limits people to one carry-on that can be placed in an overhead compartment and a small bag that must fit under the seat.

A passenger. who was one of the last people to board the aircraft, got very angry that there was no room for his carry-on in the overhead compartment. I am sure he was also angry at himself for not boarding earlier…

This person was annoyed, well actually furious, that small bags and even a paper bag with food from the airport café were in the overhead compartment instead of being under the seats.

He angrily grabbed the small bags and shoved them into another overhead compartment smashing them into the other bags and slamming the doors on them, without caring that he might be damaging the contents inside.

I’m sure all of us could understand this man’s anger at the egotistical travelers who were not considerate of their fellow passengers. They should have put their small bags under their seats. He may have also thought this would teach them a lesson!

This man assumed that these passengers were inconsiderate. What other reason could there be for not putting their bags under the seat?

Except -

These small bags belonged to passengers who were quite upset that they couldn’t have their small bags next to them. The cabin crew removed their bags and put them away in the overhead compartment because these passengers were sitting in the two middle emergency exit rows, and nothing can be put under the front seat during takeoff and landing.

Would this man have acted differently had he known the real reason behind the small bags in the overhead compartment? Perhaps he would not have been as angry.

As a result of this man’s actions, my sunglasses were broken, which I had to replace in Chamonix before hiking.

It is so easy for us to jump to conclusions when we are sure we are right. Imagine all the assumptions most of us make about older people and especially people who are living with dementia. This is why it is so important to learn to push our own emotions aside in order to fully understand a situation. Learning to center is one of the most basic Validation Techniques we use to accomplish this. Although Centering is a technique we use to connect with someone who is living with dementia, it is a technique that everyone should try to learn so they won’t let their emotions guide their responses and actions.

Negative Thoughts are Stronger

A phone rings and we think “Oh no, what happened?” rather than “Wow – what exciting news am I going to hear?”

I first read in The Book of Joy the explanation of why our first and stronger thoughts tend to be negative. This was a survival instinct of our ancestors who needed to always be alert and aware of danger. We still carry this instinct today and it makes our negative thoughts often much stronger than our positive ones.

So perhaps I can forgive myself for this ridiculous assumption I made while on vacation:

When we first arrived at our apartment, I looked out the window and was happy to see we have a small plastic table and chairs so we can sit outside to eat while enjoying the lovely view of Mont Blanc and the other mountains.

After we returned from a quick bite in the city, I looked out the window and saw that the table and chairs had been moved to the next apartment over. I told my husband, “The nerve of them, they didn’t have a table, so they took ours!”

What I didn’t realize at that moment, was that I was looking out of from the bedroom and the chairs were in front of our own living room! The table was in the same place, but I was looking at them from another room! Why did I immediately think that someone stole our table? I guess I’ll have to blame my ancestors for imagining the worst. :-)

I don’t have the Dalai Lama’s explanation from The Book of Joy, but I found this explanation on the Mirabella International University Center site about the reason our negative thoughts are stronger:

From an evolutionary standpoint, our survival depended on this negativity bias. It was a way for our ancestors to be cautious of all environmental dangers around us. Being constantly so alert to threats and worst case scenarios is what helped our ascendants survive. Through evolution the bias has become so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing.

So when we have negative thoughts we can blame our ancestors, but also realize that we can say good-bye to these negative thoughts because we no longer need them for survival.

Losses May Become Wins

When we arrived in Chamonix, the forecast showed that the following morning the rain would only begin in the afternoon and continue the whole week. We wanted to make sure to take advantage of this one day to hike and enjoy seeing at least part of Mont Blanc. We chose a hike, and like most of the hikes in this area, it begins with taking a ski lift up and in this hike, also a mountain train back down.

It was 8:00 PM, the markets were already closed so we went to a small pub to get something to eat. While there, we were told that we must buy the cable car ticket ahead of time to reserve our place.

Frantically, I went into the websites to try and understand what type of ticket to buy. Some sites were in French, and I was very pleased that I figured out that we could get a round trip ticket that included both the lift up and the train down, as well as manage to reserve two of the last places available for a morning cable car.

It was only when we got to the cable car station the following morning, that I realized I paid way too much. We only needed to go up to the first station of the mountain for our hike, but I did not see that option on-line. (I just checked the website again, now that I understand how the ski lift networks run, and there is no option to purchase the ticket on-line to the first station!)

I explained my mistake at the ticket office, but was told that tickets cannot be changed. I’m sorry I told my husband. Pretend I lost 60 Euros from my wallet…

I had an idea – I asked if we could take the cable car up to the top, see the view and then return to the mid station to begin our hike. It was possible. At least we would use those lost Euros. All I can say is what a fabulous mistake I made! Had I bought the cheaper ticket we would not have experienced this incredible station at 3842 m, (12602 ft.) at the top of the mountain called Aiguille du Midi – which translates to the “Needle of the Mid-day” because when you see the sun passing over the summit from the church in town, you know it is noon.

Coming from a heatwave, this was like a dream.

Moonlike scenery with snow and we felt the lack of oxygen after walking up the stairs at the observatory.

We saw Hang gliders take off from here to the Chamonix Valley floor and saw Alpinists who walked in the snow, even some so far away that they looked like black ants climbing Mont Blanc! This was one incredible experience we won’t forget, and we must thank my mistake!

When we are feeling good, it often feels like we are open to more positive energy. Sadly the opposite can also be true. On this trip we felt like we received unexpected surprises - but perhaps it was because we were having such a good time that everything looked and felt wonderful. Besides our luck with the great weather and gorgeous views of Mont Blanc, we also had these surprises:

We met many lovely people from all over the world on the trails, many who were hiking the full 160 km circuit trail around Mont Blanc. We were, however, most inspired by two people we met while hiking up a very steep section of one trail. The woman told us she was in her 70s and had MS (Multiple Sclerosis) which sometimes caused her difficulties climbing. The second was a man who was 82 hiking up the trail. They made us look forward to many more years of hiking.

Another surprise was that besides having a beautiful view of Mont Blanc, we had a free performance of paragliders who landed on the grass literally in front of us! It was quite a surprise while eating our breakfast outside, to suddenly have front row seats to an air show.

After saying good bye to this lovely area of Mont Blanc we had a few hours to see Geneva before our flight home. Our final surprise was having amazing weather to be able to see Mont Blanc peeking out on Lake Geneva - 70 km away!!! (43 miles!)

In Summary –

  • Even if something looks disappointing, be open to the option of change.

  • Don’t assume. We often don’t know all the facts which can lead to misunderstandings.

  • Be aware that we are programmed to have and hold onto negative thoughts, an instinct we inherited from our ancestors.

  • Sometimes mistakes and failures can lead to something wonderful.

Be ready and willing to accept change and the unexpected. You may be greatly rewarded!


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