Today I’m excited. Yesterday I was stressed out, upset, anxious, scared, and sad. I find that so fascinating – that one moment the entire world seems to be falling apart and the next it all seems so rosy and friendly. So possible.
For me, it doesn’t take much; an encouraging word, a vote of confidence, perhaps, from a trusted friend, or in many cases it’s simply a shift in perspective- a tilt of the head, a spin on my toes, a quiet evening beside the fire, pen in hand… Or a walk outside in the wild fall air.
Or reading my sixteen year-old son’s Facebook post, proclaiming that, “No, we kids are not the future. We are the present. We are in the now.”
And in a breath, everything changes.
Instead of rubbing my fingers against the rough grain of insult and accusation, I lay my hand on the soft fibers of here, now. They might not be the cloth I thought I’d woven, or even the style I think suits me the best, but it is the fabric of what is, and that is enough. My guru encouraged the celebration of everything, which I have come to understand means to be totally in whatever is… To not fight it, struggle against it or judge it.
I think about what Jill Taylor said in her book, “My Stroke of Insight” about how our emotional reactions come from the limbic part of the brain – the infantile, reptilian, survival part, and how, as mature beings, we have to shift our initial responses to what we perceive as insult or offense from that childish part of the brain to a more “enlightened” one. I recently found myself in the centre of a group of adults very clearly approaching a charged situation much like a group of five-year-olds who didn’t get the toy they wanted. Myself included.
A few years ago I was involved in ongoing group therapy, where the therapist pointed out that in group we tend to recreate our original family dynamic. At first, I couldn’t see how the people in my group were in any way like my family of origin. About a year or so in, after a major blowup within the group, it dawned on me what she meant. Although these people did not have personalities similar to my family’s, they most certainly dealt with conflict in a familiar way: not at all. Everyone smiled and was polite, and supported group members when they had issues with their partners, spouses, children, parents, and friends… No one, it seemed, had any problem with those within the group. Until, the feces hit the fan. As usual, it was me who caused the crap to be shat. That was my role in the family, and apparently it was also my role in the group. And I’m at it again.
Only this time, my perspective has shifted. I witnessed my initial reaction – the bewildered little girl who alternated between wanting to run as far away as possible and wanting to lie down on the floor and cry her heart out – but didn’t act on it. I watched the situation, the reactions of the people involved, listened, and was surprised to find that the feelings of shame, regret, anger, and sadness all passed very quickly.
The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz are very helpful in achieving a state of equanimity. In this case, they are all pertinent:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best. ”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
It will take constant practice to embed these in the synapses that fire from the survival mechanism that is the limbic brain, but oh, such contentment in those moments when I remember. In psychology, there are four stages of competence involved in the progress from incompetence to competence. When we are not yet aware of our motives or triggers, we are unconsciously incompetent. When we become aware that something isn’t working, we become consciously incompetent; ready to make some changes, but not yet sure how. As we begin to access and employ healthy strategies and responses, we begin to be consciously competent, that is, to be aware of our initial reactions and then choose to act with integrity, honesty. In this stage, we are working, always alert, paying attention and making conscious choices on how to respond. In the final stage, unconscious competence, we naturally respond to what is actually being presented in a clear way, without having to think about it. We are naturally present, responsive rather than reactive. Maybe sometimes I make it there. Mostly, I feel at stage three-plugging away at responding in an honest way without getting my knickers in a twist. If I can do that, then I’m happy. It will be a lovely day when I don’t have to remind myself that I’m not six years old alone in the sandbox .