“Organisms do not experience environments, they create them.”
— From A Simpler Way, by Margaret Wheatley
Walking down Lincoln Avenue in Portsmouth, I am struck by the beauty of the day – forsythia, tulips and daffodils, bright sun, warm breeze – and the freedom and privilege I have to walk in a healthy body, through a friendly neighborhood, of my own volition. I think about how much I take for granted, and how easy it is to feel centered and content when life is easy, flowing, and conflict free.
The day before was not so. It was rainy, windy, and cold. I hadn’t slept and woke up short-tempered and irritable. (Will winter never end?!) A project I’d been putting off could not be postponed any longer, and I knew I had to finish it even though I had no inspiration for it. My body ached from hard aikido practice the night before, and I felt tired and lacked energy. I opened a window and spilled a potted plant all over my office floor. And the last piece of my favorite toasting bread had mysteriously disappeared from its storage place. Tomorrow – who knows? As my friend Carol says, life can fall on your head at any moment.
So how do I walk my talk, change my attitude, adjust my goals, and reinvent my life even when I don’t feel like it? I kept thinking: You can do this, this is great, exactly what you look for – ideal opportunities to practice . . . center, breathe, laugh. Sure, it’s easy to be centered when things are going your way. This is the perfect day to practice – when they aren’t.
I’m embarrassed to say that it was still hard. The only good news that I was able to give myself was that I noticed. I could see I was having a “pity party,” which was a step in the right direction. Friend and colleague, Joy Jacobs, calls this ability to step outside our selves and acknowledge our reactions meta-communication. My meta-communicator is the role that says, Hey, Judy, you’re really having a strong reaction to that plant falling over. Whoah! Are you sure you want to throw it through the window? Right, probably not.
The meta-communicator is the insulation between my reaction and my response. It keeps me from getting dragged down an emotionally reactive path that I will probably regret. The ability to meta-communicate is a sign of emotional intelligence, analogous to self-awareness, and essential to self-control. Without the ability to meta-communicate, I get lost in the emotion and identify with it. There is no distance, no separation between me and my mental state; the attitude, emotion, or mood overrides conscious thought and takes me wherever it wants. I can only talk about the emotion again (like this) when it’s played itself out and I regain the ability to see it.
Centering awakens the meta-communicator. Taking a moment of literal and figurative inspiration – breathing and connecting to my power source – gives me the time and the space to decide if I want to get dragged off or not.
Pity parties are fun sometimes. I can enjoy getting together telephonically or in person with special friends. We dress up in our best long-suffering attitudes and moan about this event or that person, how much work there is to do and how little time. We bring our meta-communicators along, and we laugh at ourselves in the midst of our complaining. It’s a lot more fun to whine with awareness.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, change your mind.” How do you like what’s happening in your life at the moment? I realize it may be a lot more challenging than winter weather in May. Still, gently experiment with changing your relationship to life events, and see what happens.
When I am willing and able to do this, to change my mind, everything changes. It begins by noticing my reactive state.
Okay – Upset Energy. How can I use it in a way that’s congruent with my values and vision?
I take charge of it, before it takes charge of me.
I begin to travel a path of power and presence, instead of a path of reactivity and regret.
As I place that bit of padding between my reaction and my response, I reclaim my power. I reconnect with what is really important. Why am I here? What do I want to contribute to this workplace, this family unit, this relationship? What are my hopes for this conversation? How will I impact this meeting?
More sunny days and uplifting moments are on the horizon. But whatever the external or internal weather conditions, I am protected by an inner spring of insight that is always awake, aware, and available to be turned on at any moment. And I remember all that I have to be grateful for, including the privilege of having unsettling emotions.
How are you inventing your life today, this moment? Is life a struggle, or does it flow? It’s possible that the answers are really up to you.