In the meditation and mindfulness classes I’ve taught the past few years, there is one question that has come up repeatedly. Here’s how it arises.
I will talk about the necessity of accepting what is. After something has happened, by definition, it is. It’s now a part of your reality.
I then bring this up in the context of sticky, confrontational and sometimes heated situations. The example I find people relate best to is that of arguments with our significant others.
The relatable example of fighting spouses
I’ll give the example of what to do if your spouse/significant other says something or does something that angers or upsets you. We all know what doesn’t work: Losing our cool and yelling at and cussing out that person. This almost always ends with both people upset and fleeing to their respective corners. It’s a lose-lose.
I then counsel people on the healthiest approach: Upon feeling that first pang of upset, we immediately stop, close our eyes, relax our bodies, then take a few deep breaths…THEN we respond to whatever it is that just pissed us off.
It’s about responding, not reacting
Notice I used the word respond and not react. We respond from a place of presence and relative equanimity. We react from a place of anger and egoic outburst.
I counsel people to do this in all kinds of situations where our anger has been stirred. Upon hearing all this, here’s the question I often get:
“So by responding that way, are we supposed to just let people walk all over us? Should we let people abuse us?”
In a word, NO.
When we respond from a place of presence and not out of egoic reactivity, we are not backing down. Or letting someone walk all over us.
What we are doing is giving ourselves the opportunity to achieve the best outcome…for US.
If you’re in a fight with your wife and you insult her with every morsel of viciousness you can muster, what is the likely outcome? A satisfied ego for a few seconds and then hours, days, weeks, or maybe even years of misery…for YOU. That’s a bad outcome.
Serving your best interests
Your best shot at a successful outcome is to calm down for a few short moments and then respond from a place of non-egoic presence. In doing so, you may even be better off than before the fight because you might actually resolve a festering problem.
This issue of whether we let someone walk on us really comes down to, ‘Am I just being weak and giving in?’ The fact is that it takes real strength to calm down and respond rationally in confrontational situations.
And what is the truly weak way of handling things? To cave in to our petty, insecure egos and let loose the cannons of anger.
Bottom-lining the issue
Therein lies the crux of this issue. If you want to be strong and take care of your interests, work on responding with presence. If you want to be weak and not look out for yourself, stick with exploding in reactivity.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s really hard to pull off this calm down and respond rather than explode scenario. You and your spouse both get home from a tough day at work, you’re both tired and then somebody lobs some crappy comment. It’s easy to say screw it and let the bombs fly.
I definitely do not have this down pat. Just ask my wife.
But I do work on it. And not just with her. I use this in all of my relationships. It’s about trying to respond from presence, not ego.
So next time you find yourself in a sticky confrontation, try to remember: The strong way, responding with calm presence, in no way means you’re allowing your interlocutor to walk all over you. The weak course is to let your ego take over and lose your temper.
It takes hard work. But the cost-benefit on this one is through the roof in our favor.