It's springtime in the Rockies (thank God.) Though just because the equinox has come and gone doesn't necessarily mean it's time to dust off the flip flops. The trees have yet to bloom here, and it is easily as possible to have another blinding blizzard as it is likely for us to seek shade from a hot sun. Anything goes in alpine country, and our expectations reflect that truth. We keep the flip-flops and the Uggs in steady rotation until June.
How much of our moods and attitudes are dependent on weather conditions (and other stuff)? For example, I visited Central Park in NYC a couple of weekends ago. There was barely a square inch left un-occupied on that sunny, spring afternoon. "The New York state of mind" was mellow, light, and breezy -- not always an attitude associated with the typical New Yorker.
So many variables (like weather and people), over which we have no control, influence our well-being. I have been studying human behavior and researching ways to relieve suffering for most all of my adult life. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity (E = mc2) to get that most of our misery is caused by our expectations, which can rarely be met due to the impossibly high standards we set for ourselves, and often the people around us. And speaking of "the world's most famous equation" the following interpretation may be worth contemplating as it relates to these discussions: "The world is made up of deceiving complexities contrary to the way things seem to be."
Despite my most fervent efforts, I am still vulnerable to my emotions and to those people, places, situations, and circumstances, which trigger them. Don't I know by now (after all of these years of study and research) that my mind is a quagmire of entanglements easily persuaded by a multitude of stimuli? It will lose the keys, forget people's name, and falsely perceive situations by making assumptions based on my experience, my sensitivity, and my model of the world, all of which is chocked full of "deceiving complexities."
Following a recent upset, I was reminded of an incredibly practical and useful strategy, offered by Don Miguel Ruiz, who gleaned much of his wisdom from an ancient tribal South American teaching:
- Be Impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Take responsibility for yourself.
- Don't take things personally. Nothing others do is because of you. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
- Don't make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.
- Always do your best. This will vary from moment to moment based on what's going on in your world. It doesn't matter. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.
Below Henry David Thoreau makes a point on the matter of our human vulnerability:
"If only I could live my life as deliberately as nature and not be thrown off by every nutshell and mosquito wing that happened to fall along the trail."
What are the consequences of projecting your authority outward or making someone else responsible for how you feel about yourself? Have you ever ruminated on the "nutshell" and the "mosquito wing?" Each of us is likely a product of deeply buried childhood survival strategies that are hiding out in our unconscious psyche. These habituated ways of coping usually originate from woundedness -- something hurt us and we developed tactics to protect ourselves from future pain.
When you get triggered on the "trail" you do have a chance to return from the rabbit hole of despair. Of course, your unconscious mind will scream at you to rage or run. And after that, it will inevitably make up a story about how justified you are in either or both -- not usually helpful. And so what can you do instead? Cultivate a practice for "stepping aside."
- Recognize you are triggered. Take a breath. This isn't the time to squander energy recruiting a defense. And you will want to recruit a defense. If you can, just keep "stepping aside" and watch, rather than engage.
- Focus. Keep focusing on your breath. Avoid justifying your righteous position, analyzing what's happened and how wronged you've been, or repressing the emotion. And you will more than likely do all of these things. Just catch yourself.
- Keep turning it over. You are stuck. You are not going to be able to fix this from your place of stuckness. Ya gotta ask for help from Something beyond your local, little self. Let go and let that Something run the show -- by far the most important step for me, which always works.
- Gratitude. This is big. There is always a reason to be grateful for what's happened. Find it.
When I recently let myself be thrown for a loop by the "nutshell and mosquito wing," which felt more like a boulder and a baseball bat, I had a chance to practice the "stepping aside" exercise. In fact, I am convinced that this practice cleared the way for me to resurrect the "good" voice -- the one which guided me to The Four Agreements.
Oh yes, and about the "don't take things personally" thing. Many of us, including me, have not yet reached a level of consciousness where we are "immune to the opinion and actions of others" -- particularly those closest to us. So, do send yourself a big dose of compassion when you are tempted to take something personally, and learn to set healthy boundaries on your own behalf.
Another zinger from our friend Thoreau below:
"It is not what you look at that matters. It is what you see."
My ongoing challenge? To be aware of what I am seeing in this world of "deceiving complexities."
Believing in you.