I finished one of my books this week, just in time for book club. It was a short but beautiful read by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher, about Living Beautifully through Uncertainty and Change. Don’t let the title fool you: this isn’t a book you should only read while going through a difficult time. Instead, this book helps readers better relate to and understand their environments, and the roles they play within them. I found this perfect for some of the topics we discuss on this blog — about balancing this life. Day to day, uncertainty is thrown our way. Life is constantly in a state of flux. So how do we respond?
In the fifth chapter, Pema writes about “Staying in the Middle.” While it’s easy to cause harm through words or body language, pausing might be the best response. We all have these habitual responses or knee-jerk reactions. And these are all based on many things: how we were raised, who may have hurt us, how we’ve adapted over time. But we are not just one thing. Because life is so uncertain, we, too, as humans are constantly evolving. The Rose I was yesterday is not the same Rose as today. For the most part, yes. However, there are things that happened to me yesterday that now make up how I respond to day. It’s an ever-building cycle. And it may changed when face with a new challenge. That’s why staying in the middle is important. Pema writes:
“As a way of working with our aggressive tendencies, [one scholar] teaches the nonviolent practice of simmering. He says that rather than “boil in our aggression like a piece of meat cooking in a soup,” we simmer in it. We allow ourselves to wait, to sit patiently with the urge to act or speak in usual ways and feel the full force of that urge without turning away or giving in. Neither repressing nor rejecting, we stay in the middle between two extremes, in the middle between yes and no, right and wrong, true and false.”
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve sent an email too fast, barked out an order without thinking it through, responded out of hurt or fear. We live in a world where everything is voom, voom, fast, and it’s hard not to get swept up into those patterns. This is especially true at the workplace, where instructions are sent through multiple emails, and threads get completely lost. In some ways, thinking fast has become more valued than thinking it through. Output has suffered and mistakes have been made.
Throughout this week, I’ve paid attention to my knee-jerk reactions, allowing decisions time to simmer. I’ve seen emails, read them, and bookmarked them for later. I responded when I felt ready to respond or had the proper time to think things through. I’ve waited a bit longer in responding to an invitation or request from a friend. When feeling angered or annoyed by something, I’ve kept my mouth shut, instead considering other possibilities.
Overall, keeping my mouth shut was the hardest. It’s almost as if my brain has programmed responses and anyone can spark them at any time. It’s certainly a work in progress, but I’m doing a better job of controlling these reactions. And I really like the idea of staying in the middle.
What are your knee-jerk reactions? This week, try simmering in them.