“I can’t believe it! He’s doing it again! He knows how that upsets me and hurts my feelings.” I stewed for a long time after my husband “yet again” proved he wasn’t listening to me. My thoughts and feelings steeped in resentment, “why can’t he be more present? What is on his mind? He must not care about what I’m saying.”
We all know what it’s like to become frustrated with someone... to feel like our “buttons are being pushed.” We get insulted, our feelings get hurt, we get angry, we internally or externally react to situations we find ourselves in. It seems to happen with people who are close to us most often-- a good friend, sibling, spouse or parent. We often expect so much from these relationships that we allow things to affect us more. We take things personally more. And if we hold onto these incidents, if we carry them with us, then we literally are weighed down. And that added weight equals added stress. That added stress can cause our whole demeanor to change and we end up in turn reacting rudely to other people. It’s a chain reaction -- we take our melodrama and misery and in turn affect someone else. What can we do to stop it?
After carrying the weight of my reaction to that one incident with my husband for about a day, I was struck with a memory of an old zen story.
Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.
"Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"
"Brother," the second monk replied,
"I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."
So what are you still carrying? Are you carrying what your mother said to you that hurt your feelings two weeks ago or twelve years ago? Are you carrying a silly argument with your friend or spouse? Are you angry with someone and you can’t even remember why? Let it go! We are only hurting ourselves if we carry the weight of anger and resentment. Forgive the person, forgive yourself and move on! As yoga teacher, author, and inspirational speaker Max Strom mentioned at his recent Pittsburgh workshop on forgiveness, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you condone the action someone took; it doesn’t mean that you will forget what happened. It’s about not swallowing the hot coal of resentment, which only burns you.” In other words, it’s about letting go.
Letting go is about freeing yourself from the weight of your own emotional reaction. But how can you let it go? Close your eyes. Soften tension in your body. Breathe. Feel your feet on the ground. Realize that no one is perfect, we all have bad days. Perhaps the person who offended you was weighed down by their own “stuff.” Once you recognize this, you can begin to play “catch and release” with the melodramas in your life. Catch yourself in the midst of a reaction (or as soon after as possible - even if it’s years!). Then let go of your auto-pilot reaction and instead try reacting with compassion. This might mean you need to walk away from a conversation, or sit down and have a heart to heart, or lessen your contact with someone who chronically “brings you down.” You might even realize that if you change your own behavior and reaction pattern, you won’t encounter these situations as often. In my recent experience, it took me a day, about 12 hours, actually, before I realized that I was carrying my own reaction to something my husband did in an instant. I allowed it to affect my whole day and every moment I had with him after, even after he apologized. That was my own doing. Once I remembered the story of the monks, I was able to let it go in an instant. You can do the same, with awareness and practice.
Check out the book, “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. It’s a great insight into how to let go, center yourself, and live a happier life, free of melodrama and misery...for the most part. ;-)
Check back in with my blog tomorrow, as I continue this topic with What Are You Carrying? Part 2 - Seva, With a Side of Perspective.