We heap a ton of suffering on ourselves not from the substance of the fights we have, but from how we do the fighting. Does the following scene sound at all familiar?
Significant Other: “Honey, I’d appreciate if you’d put your plate in the dishwasher and not leave it on the counter.”
You: “Oh, just shut the f&%k up! I’m so tired of your bulls*&t!”
This is followed by a couple of slammed doors and an icy evening had by all. Hopefully, it’s just an evening and doesn’t bleed into the next morning, day, week, month or an appearance in divorce court.
Whatever the case, we all know that these kinds of explosions are all harm, no good. We also know that most of them are avoidable.
Respond, don’t react
Most of you are familiar with how they’re avoidable. It’s the old ‘respond, don’t react’ strategy. Which really boils down to, do your best to take at least a few seconds to get your boiling cauldron of anger that’s just been poked to simmer down to an acceptable temperature.
And therein lies the rub. So much needless pain and suffering comes from our not being able to catch ourselves in those few seconds before the volcano erupts.
I’ve found a two-word phrase that goes a long way in tempering my anger and upset. Here it is:
That’s it. Just those two words.
It’s about not letting your heart close
The meaning of that phrase is self-evident, but let’s expound a tad. Keeping our hearts open is really about preventing its opposite: Closing our hearts.
I wrote an entire article about this, which would be helpful to read to get when I’m writing about here. Here’s the link.
How do we use this ‘heart open’ for maximum benefit? There are three main situations/areas where it works best.
1. Situations with lead time
First would be situations where we have sufficient lead time in knowing a confrontation/fight is possible.
A colleague at work wronged you in some way. You thought about it that night and have decided to confront them the next morning. Or your spouse did something to really anger you in the morning before you both headed off to work and you’re going to bring it up when you get home.
In these cases, you gird yourself for the possibility of becoming upset so that when/if that happens, you can go straight to saying in your head, “Heart open. Heart open. Heart open.” Which, again, has the effect of not letting your heart close. Which has the effect of not blowing up.
I also suggest that when doing this, you say it quickly and repeatedly. At least three times. And that while saying it, you place your attention on your heart and imagine it staying open.
You might be wondering why this mantra isn’t “Keep your heart open.” To me, the shorter the better. In the heat of the moment, the fewer words we need to remember, the better. Heart open.
2. Situations that arise in the moment
Second are situations like the one at the beginning about the plate in the kitchen. That’s one where we didn’t see it coming.
These can obviously be harder. Why? Because we’re all dealing with the vicissitudes of life — work stress, family stress, existential stress…you name it. So that when something gets lobbed our way at the wrong time, no matter how trivial, it can ignite our inner bomb.
But here again, ‘heart open’ can be a huge help. For it to work, we need to instill it in our heads. As a cause/effect dynamic.
“When I get poked, I go straight to ‘Heart open. Heart open. Heart open.’”
We need that phrase to be at the ready. At all times.
3. Situations where we’re alone and about to ruminate
A third area where this works is something you may not think about but is incredibly helpful. Because we don’t only become upset when people are in our presence.
What do I mean? The idea for this article came to me this morning when I was dealing with a perfect example to use for this.
Suffice to say that I’m trying to help a friend with a serious medical problem and have not made any headway with the people I approached who might be able to help.
Obviously, in a life and death situation one can get emotional and angry in a case like this. But each time I’ve found myself going down that path of anger, I’ve stopped myself and said, “Heart open,” over and over. I’ve had to do this several times this morning.
What I’m doing here is simply saving myself from the negative effects of ruminating over a situation like this. We all know what that’s like.
Also, by not ruminating and spinning some sinister story in my head about these people, I’m far less likely to explode if I ever do talk with them about it. It’s a winner all around.
I’m not sure why this two-word phrase ‘heart open’ works so well, but I know it does. There’s something about the heart that people just seem to ‘get’ at a deep level.
To recap: When you feel provoked and about to explode, simply say in your head, “Heart open. Heart open. Heart open,” as you place attention on your heart staying open.
So much pain is brought into this world from people blowing up in ways far disproportionate to the situation. Try this ‘heart open’ mantra to prevent that pain from befalling you and the people around you.