Taking a sacred pause

In order to truly practice and live a spiritual (or “conscious,” if you like that term better) way of life, you must be willing to take a kind of personal responsibility for whatever is happening inside you at any given time.

It is a universal understanding that all of our feelings, reactions, and judgments have absolutely nothing to do with the other person. No one can make us feel anything unilaterally. It is the ideas, stories, unhealed pain and interpretations we make, about what was said or done, that cause us to feel whatever we feel. Something within us is in fact reacting, but that is our work to do. 

This is why one person’s joke is another person’s insult. It is the insulted person’s internal pain and interpretations that make the joke offensive. The less pain we carry, the less reactive we are to others, no matter what they say. Their provocations, even if malicious, even if ill-intentioned, are an opportunity to go within and see what is reacting to their words.

Recognizing this, we see that there is no reason to retaliate for harsh words, no reason to get defensive, no reason to send our emotional poison (as don Miguel terms it) to anyone else. When we feel upset, or emotionally reactive, or “triggered” (as the cool kids now call it) by something, it is not the time to lash out. It’s not the time to create new rules of conduct. It’s not the time to get righteous, or set boundaries, or hit them back. It’s not the time to heap an avalanche of insults at them, trying to destroy them entirely.

Instead, it is the time to take a pause, a “sacred pause” as one of my friends calls it, and to figure out what you feel and why. What are you really reacting to?

Start with the assumption that anger is fear, and ask yourself in that moment “what am I afraid of here?

Internally, you must first figure out what your upset is about, whether it really has to do with the other person, what you would honestly and truly like to be done about it going forward, and whether you still feel the same way after your mind and body have returned to a peaceful state.

When you have done your internal work, when you have reached your emotional neutral, that is the time to discuss your feelings with the other person. Calmly, without lashing out. Otherwise, if you don’t know the real reason you’re so upset, and you don’t know what you want done about it with certainty, then attacking another person, discharging your negative feelings, and expecting the other person to address it in any satisfactory way is foolishness. They can’t possibly address the turmoil inside of you, if you haven’t addressed it and understood it yourself. 

There is a very special woman in my life; someone I am blessed to call my dear friend, who has worked as an ER nurse for forty years. As I’m sure you can imagine, she has seen it all and heard it all. She’s not quite Mother Teresa (given her wicked sense of humor and sarcastic tongue), but she’s pretty close. She is the master of the sacred pause. She believes that words cut like knives, and no matter how many times you apologize later, you can never undo the pain you caused once you’ve verbally attacked another. She is thus very careful with her words; a character trait I greatly respect.

When she feels upset, or angry, she puts up her hand, closes her eyes, purses her lips, and shakes her head no. This is a signal to everyone around her that it is time to slowly back away. And they do! It’s wonderful. She doesn’t send her angry feelings to another. She doesn’t explode. She doesn’t carelessly fling insults around. She has the internal composure of a zen monk. She then takes the time to process whatever she is feeling, and decides rationally on the best course of action. It’s truly admirable.

And so, I encourage you, the next time you’re feeling some negative emotional thing, take a sacred pause. Before yelling back, before hurling profanities, or even just judgmental words, before clicking reply and moving full steam ahead in order to “let’em have it;” just take a moment and figure out what’s really happening. Blaming “them” is easy, but it’s not the truth. It’s not what’s really going on. Your anger or reactivity is coming from within you. Take an honest look. You’ll thank me later. 🙂