Water fills the space it finds itself in.
When I recently found myself in an uncomfortable situation where I felt attacked, I was, at first, drawn into anger, in many of the dimensions of that old and familiar emotion. Anger seems the first place I go, when a situation spins out of order and sense. My “buttons” get pushed and I am dragged off in the direction of my reptilian, crisis oriented brain.
The dark clouds of raw, untamed, uncivilized emotions and untempered responses obscure my usual cheery, gentile approach to the daily challenges of life. It is a quick journey to the Dark Side.
I want to just throw my thunderbolts, and shoot endless rounds of arrows into my foe, throwing my weight around and relentlessly wage my own private war.
Old fears show up, ghosts of anxieties past, spurred on by familiar inadequacies, the voices of old and powerful critics, and the scars of self doubts.
My rational, more civilized mind, just sits there, paralyzed by all the sabre rattling, until I can take some deep breaths. I’ll need to allow myself to listen to my frontal lobes, home of reason, logic, and good memories of my prior successes in peace making and problem solving.
Slowly, thoughts of how I am a good problem solver come to mind. I can entertain the idea that challenges in my life don’t need me inputting launch codes into my own arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
I am capable, I remind myself. And, my many talents at peace making and problem solving can be applied to the problem at hand.
I realize I haven’t faced this particular problem in the past, but I have worked through things and lived to tell the tale.
I just need to apply those hard-earned skills into this new challenge.
Filling the challenge with my own unique abilities is what is needed. I need to be adaptable, flexible, and, yes, methodical. The reptilian reaction of anger, rage, and war-making won’t work, and will only lay waste to relationships and problem solving.
Change and crisis, and that initial response of anger, spiced with overpowering feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, failure, rejection, jealousy, and revenge, all stirred up, makes for a toxic cocktail.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m addicted to that gut-wrenching response, and those stress chemicals are my own kind of heroin. Or, am I just a human being, hardwired to be the cranky alligator awakened from his nap.
Yet, when I can pull myself away from all that, and let my gut unclench, I can see the forest for the trees, and I can adapt my problem solving skills, and get to work.
I pour myself into the shape of the problem, like water in an ice filled glass, and fill in the spaces with my skills. Once I take this approach, and take off my armor and lay down my sword, and pick up my peacemaker tools, the solutions show up, and I can move ahead.
“Let it go,” I tell myself, pushing away the hot coals of rage and anger. “Give it time and this will play itself out.”
When I slow down the war talk, and take my time in walking through the battleground, I do better, and I start even liking myself. I begin to believe that this too shall pass, and I don’t need to start World War III. Later, that seems a simple truth. But, in my first response, I just don’t see it. I’m only the ‘gator in the swamp.
Life does that, giving us opportunities to revisit a lesson, and dust off some old tools. Again, I relearn the lesson and realize that not every affront and perceived insult calls for my reptilian warrior mode.
“It’s just life,” I remind myself. “I’ll get through it, and move on.”
I can deal with this, and do that work well.
I come to that, eventually, after I remind myself that I am like water, able to fill the space I find myself in.
–Neal Lemery, August 8, 2017