Suddenly we’re upset about something. We notice our thoughts circling around the issue and our mood turning sour. The further we spiral down the more difficult it seems for us to come out again. Why do we get upset like this? No one likes to suffer and we all enjoy positive states of mind. So do we have a choice here? What do you do in a situation like this?
When I get upset I notice sensations and emotions but I also recognize that I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. The earlier I catch myself, the less likely I am to slip fully into the upsetness and end up in a big ugly story, in suffering and even more conflict.
When I’m getting upset
I feel hurt, notice reactivity against someone or something, and also notice judging or self-critical thoughts. There can be all kinds of reasons for these thoughts and feelings and they might seem totally appropriate, but I don’t feel like it’s worth going down that road. What is it that I really want or need here?
I might start listening to my thoughts and acknowledge the feeling there—”Yes, that was not nice,”—and then focus on another truth of the situation: “but it happened and now we can clean up what came out of it.” The feelings say—”they (or I) should have done x, y or z”—and I agree with that point. And I also see something else right there with it, “but they (or I) didn’t do that in this case, so let’s learn from it and do better next time.” The key here is to just notice and not follow and continue the emotional story. The story can end with, “what happened is what happened, and the future can be different.”
There are many possibilities to be caught up in something and get upset and it’s not very easy to stop ourselves from doing so. It might be that we fear that others are taking advantage of us, or not respecting us, or ignoring us. But if I can avoid getting involved in a negative mode I always feel free and light. I notice this when it happens, like avoiding stepping in muddy puddle. It’s such a good feeling when it happens, like a bright path suddenly opening in a dark jungle.
There is a lot of awareness, self-reflection and learning involved in this practice of navigating conflict—finding the path of not getting involved in a suffering story line, but also not avoiding or resisting conflict. Conflicts also hold important information for us. Whenever we succeed at this we can feel good!
Seeing the bigger picture of what is actually happening internally and externally, being present, aware of what is—this feels meaningful.
When I can’t avoid getting upset there is a lot to discover and learn along the way:
What initially hooked me?
What were the first thoughts that got me further into the story?
Why was I not able to stop right there, just be aware and stay with my feelings?
What was the vulnerable point that overpowered my ability to just notice and stay neutral?
In other words, what was the trigger?
And what actually does that tell me about myself that I need to know?
In seeing this knowledge about myself, can I find self-care and self-compassion even if I notice blame?
How did the situation move on?
Even if we would like to “win” or “push back,” in the long run it might not feel good. It might intensify that pattern and make us need to win or push back again. More important, we will miss the hidden root of our suffering if we do that. On the other hand, if we learn to find and stay in contact with the inner goodness of ourselves and others, we set ourselves on the path of finding true inner peace. This peace will serve us wherever we are, and it can grow strong enough to outshine any upset no matter what its cause. It’s not dependent upon anybody and it might allow us to serve as a source of peace, support and understanding for others as well.
This practice is not easy to do in situations where we are triggered, but this is also when our deepest learning can occur. We all have our vulnerabilities, some known to ourselves and some still hidden somewhere inside. They show up in certain situations and get touched. We can use those situations to look closely into what is happening within ourselves and get curious about why we react as we do. We can discover many formerly hidden steps in our reactions. Our reactions are like dark inner paths that we follow blindly. Once we fully light them up with accepting awareness, possibilities arise that we simply never saw before.
The more we can practice conscious awareness and a good relationship with ourselves, the better we can care for our vulnerabilities. This is the key to a feeling of freedom, space, and choice. That dark path once lit up feels free, spacious, good. We feel filled with choice and power to do what we really want to do. We will find ourselves far more resilient in many moments in our lives where we usually would have been automatically triggered.
Sometimes it’s quite fascinating to discover what’s actually going on in the background of our mind. Many times when I feel bad or just not particularly good I notice—if I look—that backstage there is a lot of internal talk going on that is highly self-critical, even nasty. The more I shine a conscious light on it and hold those tendencies in my awareness I can dis-identify with the content and the opinions there and simply notice the bigger in-the-moment picture. This allows for self-compassion and for a reality check which usually shows that what is making me feel bad right now are actually old unconscious beliefs or opinions that are not fitting the present moment, but are actively coloring it, turning it dark and uncomfortable. But until I recognize that they are active, they can hijack my energy and well-being quite a bit. So I like to take back awareness and also control of the plane!
Have a good week,