In last week’s blog, I talked about how we are all ‘mood inductors’ and thus, have a great responsibility not only to ourselves but to everyone around us to be, if not ‘good,’ then at least ‘mindful,’ inductors of emotions. Like most spiritual teachings, it’s simple to understand but not always easy to do!
A few months back, Abigail and I met a friend out for dinner. It was Saturday night, the end of Shabbat, so Abigail and I walked. And walked. And walked. It was a good walk, but I had slightly underestimated the time it would take (plus Abigail figuratively and literally likes to stop and smell the roses). We turned up late. When I did arrive, the restaurant was a little dark, our table a little crowded, and it became immediately apparent that they were understaffed.
So we left, opting to go down the street to another restaurant that was a little less busy and that had an outdoor table open.
We had been seated, were settled in, had our drinks, and were perusing the menu when I noticed some energy. There was a man looking at me and heading in our direction with a certain set to his shoulders. He had been at the first restaurant, sitting with his wife next to our dim and cramped little table. And he had feelings. Feelings he was on a mission to share with me. So he walked straight to our table and started in about how he felt that deciding to leave without ordering had been rude, unconscionably rude, the rudest thing he had EVER seen.
Looking back, it’s laughable. If THAT innocuous interaction was the rudest thing he’d ever seen, then maybe he doesn’t get out much!
My friend had been seated with her back to him, so she was taken unaware by his sudden appearance. And when he started to berate me, she interjected. But I decided that we were not going to have a discussion about this. So I pointed out how inappropriate and unwelcome his behavior was. And he was doing all of this in front of my then 7-year-old daughter. Talk about audacity. He huffed off, leaving the three of us staring at each other with wide eyes.
What had just happened?!
I am nothing if not self-aware, and when he made these accusations, I took a careful inventory of my actions, words, and tone thoughtfully over the next few days. What it came down to was that I had made this decision standing up, rather than sitting down. I suppose by standing in his proximity, I’d created some stress or discomfort for him. But I certainly hadn’t been hovering above him!
Interactions like this have the ability to derail our mood and invade our thoughts long after the situation has passed. But we don’t have to let them. And I know, it’s hard. Certainly, as I did, investigate if there is anything to be learned. But then we need to powerfully reclaim our thoughts and feelings.
Our boundaries are there to help us hold and protect our own space. And when someone crosses ours with rudeness, judgment, excessive fault-finding (with little or no cause), or a general “glass is half empty” mentality, we have to learn to find the balance between empathy and boundaries. I propose the idea of redirection as a place to start.
In the Japanese practice of Aikido, the force of an attack is redirected, weakening the opponent (and often even causing the attackers’ own power to bring them down). Because of this rerouting of energy, smaller, weaker people are often able to win over stronger, larger ones. There’s no hitting back, no suit of armor needed. So how might this play out in life?
We can redirect and help people reframe their emotions and thoughts. We can empathize without being pulled into the drama, sadness, or anxiety. We can redirect gossip into a more productive conversation about how we might support someone instead of judging them. Complaints are often made to vent, and a little venting is fine; but the redirect is to focus on what is good that the person can be grateful for, rather than leaving the sole focus on what isn’t working.
Or, like me with Mr. Grumpy, we can simply refuse to participate.
It always helps me to remember that everyone is doing their best, even if it seems otherwise. We are all fighting battles that those around us are completely unaware of.
So when fraught situations arise, we can be proactive or reactive. If we’re reactive, we are not in control of our own lives. We are accepting someone else’s panic (or complaint, or gossip, or anger) as being true—or worse, feeding into it—as a reactive response. We are accepting their reality, versus creating our own.
We always have a choice: Light or darkness. Building or destroying.
Every person and situation in our lives is there to help us grow. Why another person behaves the way they do is part of their own journey with their own set of lessons to learn. If we choose to have them in our lives, and sometimes we do not have that choice, we can decide their place and space.
The bottom line is this: Whether it’s a stranger shouting expletives at you in traffic (been there, too), or a barrage of ick from someone close to you, stay calm. Be understanding, try redirecting the darkness to light, and protect your boundaries.
The more we understand our own lives in a spiritual context, the better we’re able to keep our course, regardless of the challenges. Thinking: “I want to be the light in the room” can go a long way.
We talk about ourselves as being co-creators of our lives, to strive to be like the Creator, to be leaders in our own right. Likewise, instead of falling to a lower common denominator and allowing the energy around us to determine ours, we can turn that around and decide how we want to feel.
Because the Mr. Grumpies in life shouldn’t get to ruin a nice dinner. Or a good night’s sleep.