Have you ever had an epiphany? You know, that sudden ping that opens your eyes to a new way of thinking or being? That thing Oprah refers to as an “Aha moment”? That’s what this post is about, more or less. It’s a combination Mindful Monday Healthy Living and Just Jot It January make-up post, for the January 26 prompt, “Oneness”, brought to us by Carol at WritersDream9.
Have you let that aha moment slip by, or embraced it, finding ways to make it truly your own?
One of the most paradigm-shifting realizations I’ve had in recent years has to do with the inter-connectedness of things, and how it impacts my entire life.
The Vulcans have a koan given to them by Surak, who brought logic to a passionate people.
“The spear in the other’s side is the spear in your own; you are he.”
Yes, I know that Vulcans aren’t real. Or are they? If I believe them to be real, if others do, too, and if they’ve become a part of our culture, then, in some sense, aren’t they real?
Whether or not you believe that they are, I do, and I take that koan to heart. I’m not inclined, these days, to seek revenge or even retribution against those who wrong me. It’s not exactly “turn the other cheek” – I was abused, as a child, and so I know intimately that there are those who would happily take the opportunity to use my cheek to vent their own emotional chaos.
It’s more an awareness. If you hurt others, you hurt yourself, because we’re all part of one another; far less separate than we often tend to think we are. The emotional energy that leads to lashing out at others is toxic – not just to the person we attack, but to us. It’s better, and far healthier, to learn new ways of handling our own emotions. We can become responsive, rather than reactive.
What’s the difference? Reactivity happens instantaneously/ It’s the ifight-or-flight reflex. It’s the domain of the limbic system – the oldest part of our brains. It can lead to crimes of passion, hurtful words, and other sudden explosions. The limbic system doesn’t allow for rational thought. It’s a survival mechanism for those times when we need to react instantly, and taking the time to think things through rationally could get us killed.
Responsiveness means waiting out that limbic reaction. That takes about ninety seconds; after that we can think again. Deep breathing can help us get through that minute and a half; so can separating ourselves from the situation that triggered the response. In his excellent book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hahn suggests getting still and accepting our emotion rather than fighting it. We’re told anger, fear, jealousy, and other strong emotions are ‘bad’, but, in truth, they’re simply powerful.
There’s something to be learned in these emotions, he advises. Rather than trying to get rid of the feeling, it’s better to turn toward it, to quietly ask it what it’s about, and what would ease it.
When I began doing that, I learned something very valuable about my powerful emotions. Many times, I was angry because I wanted someone else to act according to my own preferences. I wanted to control what others did, and their failure to do as I wanted led to my own furies.
That’s where my wise friend Mary comes in. Once, several years ago, I was angrily recounting an argument I’d had with my Accomplice, when she looked at me and said, “The only person you can control is yourself. The question is, what are you going to do about it?”
It was another paradigm shifter. Yes, I could go on and on in what I saw as righteous fury. But I wasn’t getting anywhere that way, and I was poisoning my marriage and my own soul.
At first, the responsibility of being in control of my own actions and reactions was terrifying and confusing. Did it mean that I simply had to accept behavior from my spouse or others that I found intolerable? That he had no accountability for his own actions?
The answer to both of those questions was no. What I did do was wait for the hard feelings to ease, and then, when I felt we could talk without getting embroiled again, I told him calmly what Mary had told me, and that I wasn’t angry at him anymore, but that I needed to figure out how to deal with behavior on his part that I found personally untenable. That opened the door to a more honest, less emotionally fraught conversation, and a process of change that is ongoing. From that point on, I began to learn how to disagree, and even argue, with him in more productive ways. Eventually, he responded in kind, and things have been getting better ever since.
Just this morning, my Accomplice shared with me that I’d done something he found a bit stressful. Not wrong, just stressful. He told me that he wanted to share it, because he didn’t want it to build up and become an issue between us.
How is all this connected to health and mindfulness? Well, happier marriages offer greater support; give us a partner to help us as we navigate life’s stressors.
Taking responsibility for my own actions, and releasing others to theirs, keeps me from a great deal of angst in my life. Living in a way that accepts others and embraces peace rather than retaliation means that I live in a kinder and gentler world than I might, otherwise. It frees me up to simply live, joyfully, focusing on what makes me happy and healthy.
So, even though this post is a bit rambling, that’s OK, because all these things connect to one another in a spirit of oneness that feeds our healthy living.
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