Oct 14, 2015

IT'S ALL GOOD: FINDING PERSPECTIVE


When I was about six or seven, my mom and I were in the car a few blocks from our house. Some impatient young chap zoomed past us. In his hurried display of aggression, he presented his middle finger in hopes of translating his distain for our existence. I, rattled, immediately burst into tears. In a desire to allay my outburst, mom asked me, “will you remember this in ten years?”

Because I knew she was right, I set out to prove her wrong. I made an exaggerated mental dog ear on this page of life to justify and pacify my moral outrage.

Two decades later, I do, in fact, still remember this incident.

But I can’t say I have a whisper of emotional connection to it. If anything I have more compassion and patience for people who don’t seem to. So while on one side my younger self can happily prove my mother wrong that I remember, she must wave the white flag knowing that it actually all turned out okay in the end.


Can you recall times in your childhood or adolescence when there was that thing that mattered so much you felt so overwhelmed emotionally, practically making yourself sick?

It was the tragedy of the fallen ice cream cone.

It was the injustice of your bigger sister’s cooler present.  

It was the forlornness (learned a new word today) of the unrequited crush of a cute but aloof boy from first period.

Chances are we can recall a few of those times. Chances are the ones we can recall are the tip of the iceberg of times we have forgotten. Chances are even greater still that the emotional experience of those times is no longer accessible.

In light of this slow atrophy of emotional association with events, I’d like to posit that perhaps, just perhaps, the things that we get rattled over now also have their expiration date on relevance.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to belittle your personal challenges. There are some things that we face that we really have to do a lot of inner work to move through. And for those things I applaud and support your courage in braving them.

But,

perhaps,

maybe,

a significant number of the circumstances that get us riled up aren’t actually as big of a deal as we imagine.

I’m going to share a tip I learned once about gaining perspective on our own filters of reality. It’s about separating fact from story. It goes something like this:

Fact: I noticed she didn’t talk to me as much today.

Story 1: She’s so inconsiderate.

Story 2: She must hate me.

Story 3: She’s so self-involved.

Or

Fact: He didn’t say anything when I walked in.

Story 1: I’m so worthless.

Story 2: He must think I’m totally crazy.

Story 3: I’ll always be alone.

Starting to get the picture?

We filter facts about what happens in life so immediately through story that often we let our emotions write the script about what “must be true”.

When I first tried this kind of exercise, I was unconvinced. My story, after all, was fact. Other people’s story, after all, was wrong. Slowly I gained perspective to understand that I’m not always right. (Go figure.) That often my emotions cloud or skew my perspective. That everyone’s experience of an event is just that – their experience. And experience is not binary. It can’t be “right” or “wrong”.

This insight has really important implications for how we look at life and our circumstances. We have the chance to step back and separate what we witnessed occur from how our inner experience colors it. This is just as true for our inner dialogue with ourselves as it is in our relationships with others.

It’s taken me a few years to begin to master this adjustment. At first it was conceptual – knowing that there was this rift. Then it was actively trying to reconcile something that was viscerally challenging. I knew I was taking things too personally but the feeling kept me from actively making a lasting change.

Setting aside time to meditate every day has trained me to slow down and listen to my heart. It’s cleared those colors, allowing more pure, clear vision. I still have human tendencies, like getting anxious, but so much less affects me than before. I have access to compassion, perspective and acceptance that I never felt before.

So let’s do the deep work inside and clarify what we give our energy to. We can ask ourselves questions to gain perspective.

How much does this circumstance matter in the end?

Is there another way of looking at it that can dissipate the story I’ve attached to it?

If I still feel strong emotion about the circumstance, can I give myself space to ground and find stillness?

How can I proactively adjust my relationship to this circumstance?

I have to laugh inside though that, in the end, as much as it can be helpful to analyze and bring awareness to how we see the world, sometimes the solution doesn’t come from a direct answer or insight to a problem.

Often when I’ve sat in meditation, the pressing question or challenge I faced was reconciled not by suddenly miraculously understanding what to do. Instead, the immediacy and intensity disappeared and clear centeredness took its place.

Practicing meditation is like the shortcut to “time healing all wounds”. The small amount of time we attend meditatively to our heart gives back exponentially to allay and quiet or inner life.

Dear six year old me,

It’s all good.

Love,


Emma



Photo: Sean McGrath

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