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 the fundamental understanding that all of your feelings, reactions, and judgments have absolutely nothing to do with the other person. No one can make you feel anything. It is the ideas, stories, and interpretations you make, about what was said or done, that cause you to feel whatever you feel. (This is why one person’s joke is another person’s insult. It is the insulted person’s internal interpretations that make the joke offensive).
Recognizing this, you see that there is no reason to retaliate for harsh words, no reason to get defensive, no reason to send your emotional poison (as don Miguel terms it) to anyone else. When you 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. Instead, it is the time to take a pause (a “sacred pause” as one of my friends calls it), and 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?” 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. If you don’t know the real reason you’re so upset, how do you expect the other person to address it in any satisfactory way?
There is a very very special woman in my life; someone I am blessed to call my dear friend. She was 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. 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 – the mistake, misunderstanding, misinterpretation is yours, not theirs. You’ll thank me later. 🙂