I'd never felt so unfairly accused.
My boss told me of a complaint she'd received about my attitude, management style and performance which I felt was grossly unjust.
But instead of coming to my defence, in my dumbstruck silence she said: "I think you should take tomorrow off and think about what has happened. Maybe that will help you consider how to amend your ways."
I went home, curled up on the couch, and tried not to ruminate about what had just happened. But my reaction to what had occurred kept pushing its way into my thoughts, along with questions about myself.
Talk about stressful.
I admit that sometimes I'll turn to a goofy cat video to de-stress at the end of the day. But I clearly needed something much more than a good laugh to push through my distress and figure out a way forward.
Research shows anxiety and conflicts aren't helpful for health and well-being, a point I really take to heart. Wanting to live a healthy lifestyle without needing to look to a biomedical remedy, I yearned to find a more peaceful frame of mind from which to address the situation. As I did so I began to recognize the necessity to express more humility.
It was time for some soul searching.
One way I approach this is through stories told by the world's great spiritual teachers. The stories that help me most in my soul searching come from the lessons Jesus articulated. One parable in particular has helped me many times.
It's about a guy who demands his inheritance from his dad while still a young adult. He leaves home and spends his cash on crazy parties, then encounters a crisis. When he finally hits rock bottom, he decides to go home and ask for forgiveness. When he arrives his dad runs out to greet him with a big hug and throws him a party.
The kicker for me in the story is the older brother's attitude. He doesn't understand why his younger brother can behave so irresponsibly and yet be immediately forgiven. He has been obedient and faithful during the same period. As one Bible translation puts it, he: "...stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen. The son said, 'Look how many years I've stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends?'"
Realizing how the older brother feels, the dad says to him, "Son, you don't understand. You're with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours."
He indicates they should all celebrate together in gratitude.
I find this story comforting. It not only shows me the lesson of forgiveness learned by the younger son, but I also needed to learn the lesson being taught to the older son -- that I can feel the good in my life is secure. It doesn't depend on the actions of others. The father's words in this parable -- "everything that is mine is yours" -- speaks to me of a deeper sense of what we have and its loving source that's always with us, no matter what. To me, it represents a bigger picture of a divine Parent who provides everything we need.
So how could the ideas in this story help me get a more secure feeling and let go of the stressful situation I was in?
An author I like to get ideas from -- the late 19th century American pioneer on health and spirituality, Mary Baker Eddy -- wrote: "the health and character of man become more or less perfect as his mind-models become more or less spiritual."
I knew that in order to feel peace, I had to take a good look at what model of security I was holding in mind. Was it based on external factors determined by those around me? Or did it rest on a more spiritual viewpoint and what that led me to think about myself and others?
The model I wanted to hold on to, as I thought about the character and qualities of myself as well as my colleagues, was one of compassion, love, and forgiveness -- not fear, anxiety or bitterness. If good truly comes from an always-loving divine source it seemed to me that good, calm qualities were natural to me and everyone.
Working from this model, I considered how I could do better. Had I been defensive, willful or selfish?
I realized I could be more compassionate. I think subconsciously I'd felt expressing too much compassion would be seen as a weakness coming from a woman in a professional environment. But that wasn't right. Everyone who expresses compassion with their colleagues is actually showing great strength, not fear, and is probably less stressed and better able to help others be more stress-free too.
From that point on, I began to feel much more at peace and able to feel greater compassion for those around me. Like the older brother in the parable I came to see I had everything I needed -- nothing could be unjustly taken from me.
In an effort to remain less stressed I made changes in my daily routine and took more time to read and reflect on spiritual ideas first thing in the morning, even before checking emails. This set the tone for an increasingly secure, joy-filled and calm outlook, and I began to notice more compassion in others too.
It turned out well. I kept my job!
What I believe could have become an avalanche of stress leading to potentially bad health consequences had turned around into finding a deep, inner stillness that empowered me to solve the problem.
And the only remedy I had to reach for was the stories and ideas that have taught me that as children of that divine Parent stress isn't an inevitable part of our lives.
Follow Sharon McElroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sfmcelroy