These types of thoughts might travel through your mind on a daily basis:
Why did that person cut me off on the highway?
Why did my boss act short with me this afternoon?
Why didn’t my friend text me back yesterday?
Are they mad at me? Did I do something wrong?
There are SO MANY thoughts that travel through the mind at any given moment. It’s endless. Sometimes it can feel like a circus that we’ve lost control of, and it can be really overwhelming.
Through the yogic, Buddhist, and many Eastern perspectives, our mindset creates our reality. What we choose to see and believe is the truth. Suffering comes from attachment; to an idea, to an outcome, to a perspective, to an emotional mindset.
I recently had an interesting experience with a close friend. She was complaining because a guy she was interested in hadn’t asked her on a date after a couple of weeks of texting back and forth. My immediate response was, “yes he did!” Incredulously, she insisted, “no he didn’t!” I grabbed her phone and scrolled through her text messages, showing her two separate instances where he had in fact asked her out!
Her response? “Well, I was working when he asked.”
Isn’t it funny how we see what we want to see? It can be easy to make our Self the victim in our own narrative. I hear it all of the time. I do it, too!
Throughout my life, as I’m sure you can relate, I’ve had challenging interpersonal situations. These have ranged from day to day interactions with strangers that were mildly uncomfortable, like giving the right of way to a driver at a 4-way stop and having her roll her eyes at me, to something a little more meaty, like my best friend deciding she was in love with my ex boyfriend (which as you can imagine, I was not okay with!). While it took a few moments to get over the absurd behavior of another driver, it took over a year until I wasn’t completely devastated by my friend’s decision to pursue a romantic relationship with my ex. I kept circling around the thoughts, how could they do this to me? Don’t they care about me? Did they think I would be happy about this? Did she seriously ask for my blessing?!?!?!
What about ME, ME, ME?!
I was completely stuck within a mental spiral, and there wasn’t a day, hardly an hour I didn’t think about it. I was consumed within a whirlwind of emotion. I was making myself a victim of circumstance. And it was a pretty lame pity party. The kind you don’t want an invitation to.
Our perception of reality functions much like a movie theatre. When we go watch a movie, and suspend our disbelief, we can be totally engrossed in the reality of the film. We get tense when something gruesome or scary is on screen. We laugh when a character does something silly. We might cry when a character dies. When the movie finishes and the screen goes dark, we are brought back into the real world. In life we can become so preoccupied with an idea or an image within our mind that all we see or experience is that reality. We don’t realize that a projection is taking up our consciousness.
I spent countless time defending both, verbally and internally, how I was right to be so upset and they were wrong to develop feelings for each other, then I finally realized something very powerful…it had nothing to do with ME! They didn’t get together and plot to cause me mental distress. I chose to be mentally distressed. It doesn’t mean that it was “right” for my friend to make the choice she did, but it was the right choice for her, and that’s what matters. It was up to me to decide how to respond.
Through meditation practice, you can begin to loosen the attachment to a strong sense of I or ME and start to see through a non-judgmental lens. You take in the full scene around you, and rather than identifying what is good or bad, right or wrong, you just see. You become the Watcher of your experience. You have thoughts that flow through your mind, but you are not your thoughts. You experience emotions and judgments, but you are not your emotions or your judgments.
This doesn’t mean that you stop having opinions or preferences, or lose your entire identity in a sea of nothingness. What meditation practice does provide is mental space to help develop less reactivity, and foster more responsiveness. What’s the difference? A reaction is usually rash, something we may regret later; a response is usually thoughtful, flowing out of our authentic Self.
Once I started to shift my perspective, life became much easier. Not because any circumstance changed, but because the way that I perceived life changed. I stopped taking everything so personally. I was able to recognize that if someone was behaving in a way that I didn’t prefer, it didn’t mean it was due to anything I had done or even how they feel about me, they were just having a bad day, or that’s just the way they acted. A really helpful exercise can be to ASK someone about it instead of making an assumption and getting grumpy yourself. Try it!
Life is not happening to you, you are experiencing different situations, and can so choose how to respond. Just because you are given an undesirable or difficult situation doesn’t mean you need to react in an ugly way. You can choose to victimize yourself, or you can choose to become the master of your mind.
The funny thing about other peoples actions is that most of the time, they have NOTHING to do with you! Isn’t that a relief? That person cut you off because they were in a hurry. Your boss was short with you because they were stressed out. Your friend didn’t text you back because they forgot to press ‘send’ after typing their response to you. It’s incredible how much energy and time we put into hypothetical situations that don’t exist, and that will possibly never exist.
Without having to take everything so personal, think of how much LESS you need to worry, stress and obsess! What a wait off your shoulders.
PRACTICE CHALLENGE: the next time you encounter a challenging situation, notice what your immediate reaction is. Do you immediately make yourself a victim? Do you go into blaming mode? What if you took a pause, and then decided to respond? Or took that moment to realize that their actions aren’t aimed to personally hurt or attack you.
Sometimes just a deep breath and a moment of calm before your response can make a world of difference. And instead of assuming what someone is thinking or why they did or didn’t do something, feel free to ask questions. This small shift has saved me from much discomfort in my interactions. It opens doors to communication instead of slamming them shut.