Thursday, January 26, 2023

Don't react

I've been thinking a lot about not reacting. I've been thinking a lot about accepting bad news and weird turns of events and seeking equanimity; by not reacting, the event itself becomes minimized, as alarming as it may be when first encountered. No matter what happens, everything is there as some kind of lesson, some kind of learning moment (as they like to say in elementary schools in Los Angeles). To leap from the overwhelming sense that one is exactly where one is meant to be, and so finely tuned and aligned with the world to be on the precipice of manifestation (this sounds so woo woo but I don't know another term for this - it's the feeling of being so at one with the universe that things aren't surprising when they're lovely or perfect or beautiful or joyful; a similar thing happens on a horse, when you and the horse are so in sync, when the horse is so on the end of your hand that the mouth of the horse and your hand are in complete harmony, so that it doesn't matter what you ask for, it will happen. When you are in this state of balance and mind-melding it doesn't matter what is asked of you because it will happen) to the dissonant feeling that things are creaky and weird and misunderstood and not in any way in sync, is very odd. Two things happened simultaneously: Oscar nominations with an overwhelming show of love for a client's German film and on the very same day (and not, I'm aware, by mistake) another client deciding that our relationship is over ("I respect you so's not personal...I am looking at everything from a different perspective.." etc). A perfectly lovely Dear John letter which makes perfect sense and should not feel personal, and yet it does, and it colors everything, makes one doubt everything. It's my monkey brain I say to myself. This is just chatter. Breathe. I one hundred percent know that in this case I did everything I could and more and that I tried to remain true to my values and what I believe to be right and still hold a place for the client's desires, even if I didn't believe them to be clearly thought out, or for his own good in the world. But here's the thing: I am not his mother. I am not hired to be his mother or his moral compass. How strange it is though how the universe lists from side to side in that way from one extreme to another.

I was bruised, it's true. Embarrassed even. I worked very hard and I know I gave it my best. But now, after my 25th night of Dry January, after an evening of reading and contemplation, after a cold ride on a fresh horse this morning, through the woods, watching the jackdaws and the magpies, and breathing, just breathing in and out (I count one in/one out and try to make it to ten without my mind wondering. Try it. It's so hard!) I feel like it's right. I am okay with it. It was jagged and irksome and difficult and I'm not here on this planet to bend myself into a pretzel for someone else especially if they don't notice the effort...what is that? Instead, I tried to make myself one with my horse. I sat on her cold back and paid attention to the way she fidgeted at the beginning, on the lookout for tigers and bears and scary things. I made her walk past Jane's pigs with her neck bent right, like a shoulder fore, so that they wouldn't freak her out and make her snort. I made her trot more than she wanted to, pushing her into my hand. And finally when we walked, I put my bum properly down in the middle of the saddle so that she could feel I was resting and centered, and I felt the way her body was warming against my lower leg. We continued like that, stepping over the icy bits, swinging along, her tail out just slightly as it is when she's happy, ears pressing forward, alert. If my hands move in exact sync with her body, and I breathe like she is breathing, and I shift my weigh just a little deeper into the center of my pelvis, then perhaps she will think we are one, perhaps I will think we are one, not two, just one ball of breathing, walking energy. I was matching her. It was our special kind of equine kenosis. It calmed her and it calmed her.

In my job, I know how to get things. I know how to think about a goal and focus every effort into attaining that goal. I know how to not give up. I know how to push beyond obstacles. I know how to be not so polite. I know how to make things happen. I didn't realize I had this quality until my friend Marta told me that I have a can do spirit. Ha ha. I'll take it. This doesn't always apply to things outside of work however. It's so much easier to advise other people or make things happen for other people, or to see other people's problems so much clearer than one's own. Do you know what I mean? Everyone's else's trajectories seem so illuminated somehow, like the lights on the floor of the plane in case of emergency. I wish I knew how to do this for myself. 

So, not reacting.

I believe that we're trained to process minor trauma by reacting to it, that is, to tell our friends, to turn it into a drama, to talk about what a horrible person the other is, to demonize and catastrophize. At least, this is what I have learned. But in fact, the alternative, which is to notice it, and to catch oneself before we've made it bigger than what it is. For example, it's very possible that nothing is ever about you. And yet, this is what we tend to do, we understand things as happening to us, when instead - and this is supremely hard to do, but it's worth the effort - we could imagine that actually everyone is so self-involved and carrying their own set of worries and desires and fragility that it's not EVER about us/you. Isn't it better then to think about things happening for you?  Here's a simple example: You are in a rush and you are at a red light that seems incessant. You have two choices. You can yell and scream, and curse at the cars in front of you. Or you can breathe in and out slowly and use it as an opportunity for a mini meditation.

An apache helicopter just flew over my garden. And the sky is going very dark. I suspect rain.

One option leaves you with palpable anxious, frustrated energy in the middle of your chest. The other allows you to bring new loving energy into your lungs and allows you to pause for long enough to see that it just doesn't matter. There is an idea that the space between the in and out breath is in fact an opportunity to glimpse heaven. (Heady stuff when stuck at a red light, no?)

If you look up equanimity it will say "it is the steady conscious realization of reality's transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love." 

I suppose the other thing to look at here is the idea that one is in control of one's destiny. I'm not sure I am. And yet I don't advocate standing in the middle of a field and flailing. Our is a 50/50 relationship with the universe. If you show up and do your part, the universe will meet you half way. That has become clear to me. Maybe not when I was young, but now this is increasingly apparent, and there is something rather beautiful about it. You know, like the symmetry of a Wes Anderson movie. (OhMyGoodness, this poem so sums this up!)

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January really does suck, doesn't it. If you're not enjoying it, do take a look at the January Jeliciousness section of this blog. It was done one January when I was a bit miserable and so were my friends, and in an effort to cheer us all up, I thought "food"! And so I went to my favorite foodie people and asked them to share their very favorite recipes. I just dipped into them again and they're wonderful. Try Reza's chestnut and lentil soup or Coral's shortcut cassoulet or Suzi's Lebanese Messy Malfouf.

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(This is of course assuming that people are reading this, which I don't think they are. But just as a reminder that this is not edited, just spewed out there, so my apologies ahead of time. Thank you and take care.)


CK said...

I am always glad to read what you write and happy when my feed reader tells me you've posted!

materfamilias said...

I'm reading, quite contentedly, thank you! Will soon stop commenting on each post so as not to be awkward ;-).. . but will still be reading.

Anonymous said...

I am reading, enjoying and learning. Thank you for writing.

Neil Baker said...

I am reading, enjoying and learning. Thank you for writing. (And I am retyping and commenting again because I don’t want to be anonymous!)