On Reframing

3am photo


What is it about 3 am?  I rarely hear someone say, “I was up ruminating at 2 am,” or “I was tossing and turning, trying to solve the problems of the world at 4 in the morning.”  Those sentiments tend to come, almost always, with the timestamp of 3 am.

I was pondering this in the wee hours of the night, or morn rather, at 3 am today, as I lay awake.  I was wishing I were asleep, but then I remembered Rae. Rae, a spiritual teacher from India who borrowed my office when I was out of town teaching the Hoffman Process a couple years ago. Rae, who graced my small brick-walled room with his palpable wise energy.  I met Rae on the tail end of his stay, when I returned from California to my office in Cambridge, MA, and he was packing up to return to India.

We had a brief, pleasant exchange, as I came in and he went out, during which I believe I mentioned having some jet lag.

“Oh,” he said with a playful smile, “are you a member?” He squinted at me knowingly.

I didn’t know what he was asking, but his inviting grin made me want to say “Yes!”  Made me want to be a member. “Of what?” I asked.

“The 3 a.m. club,” Ray said.  “Were you awake last night at 3 am?  Thinking?”

“Yes!” I said, because I had been.

“It is a very busy, very important time for our club,” he said.  “We are all working hard at that hour to heal the world.”

Remembering that exchange last night—or this morning—gave my awakeness a welcome reframe.  (Which I offer to you, in case you’re a member of the club…) The reframe allowed me to be awake with a sense of peace, of purpose even.  A sense of acceptance, instead of vexing consternation. It continually astounds me how salutary a reframe like that can be. Turning what feels like an unwelcome occurrence—being up when I’d rather be sound asleep—into something I can accept and experience as somehow positive.  

When we are stuck in a rut of negative thinking, reframes are our friends.  

A client recently reframed his sense of being overwhelmed, into seeing his full life as an honor, as his calling to have been bestowed with such a surfeit of responsibility.  And somehow, viewing his many obligations as honors, as callings, versus burdens, while it did not exactly lift his load, shifted it. I could see in his posture a sense of lightening.  He sat up straighter, his shoulders dropped. His brow unfurrowed, and his eyes lit up. He was ready to face his life—versus fear and avoid it. Nothing had changed about his life at all, except his perspective.

Similarly, another client recently reframed her contention with her adult son.  Rather than continuing to use their fraught dynamic as evidence of her shortcomings as a parent, she said, “I suppose I could think of this as a growth opportunity—for both of us.  We clash, but maybe we clash so we can change.” And this reframe brought a smile to her face, a slight glow to her skin. Her discussing their relationship shifted into an exploration of what they both might be learning from this relational strife.

What in your life could use a reframe? What unwelcome experience might be able to be seen as being part of a healing club? What is overwhelming you that you could shift into an honor or calling? Is there a relational challenge going on that could be viewed as an invitation to grow and change? Reframing isn’t magical thinking. It isn’t pretending what is going on isn’t. It’s shifting the emphasis from being stuck to movement, from despair to what’s possible.  

5 thoughts on “On Reframing”

  1. I have been reframing a lot lately or sometimes I call it shifting energy! It works!!!
    I love your writing!!!
    Thank you!


  2. Hilary, this post is really, really comforting. I must say, I used to get so frustrated at waking at 3 am (or perhaps it really was 2 am) and fretting over stuff I couldn’t possible fix at that hour or frankly the next day, week, year. I’ve slowly begun to accept that this waking cycle is one of the “bonuses” of middle-aged life and I find the less I try to fight it, the quicker I fall back to sleep. I am loving your wise words on the reframing approach-need to seriously think about this as I deal with a challenge I’m facing with my son. Such a good wake-up call to not wallow in self pity-reframe your thinking and it doesn’t feel as overwhelming.


  3. Last night I was up at 3 am, fretting about an email I read right before bed (opportunity to remember not to read email before bed!). But I woke up in the morning in the right frame of mind to solve the problem, so I take your point!


  4. I LOVE this post! I will smile the next time I join the 3 AM club – which could be in just a few hours – and see what I can do to heal the world. And I am going to post REFRAME in my office, on my computer, fridge, etc., as a much-needed cue for my negative moments. I may even make it the first entry on my daily to-do list. I so appreciate your insights. Many thanks!


  5. Well, I was up last night at 3:33…. and thought of you, dearest Hilary – it was the night after reading this lovely post. Wise as always…. thank you! Glad to be in your club 🙂


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