It is natural to want to fight back or engage in verbal warfare when you feel attacked, it is in our DNA to react. The thing is, we have been evolving as a species for thousands of years and being on auto pilot does not serve us at this point. It did serve us when we were hunter/gatherers, but not now. Our brains have evolved to the point where our pre-frontal cortex(planning,reasoning, emotional control) has more to say than the amygdala(fight/flight)…that is, if we choose for it to be so.
Even though our brains are now wired for deeper thought and reasoning and that this part of our brain takes up more real estate, we must choose to use this asset rather than default to our lower selves, the place where our reptilian brain still resides. We must choose each and every time we feel threatened to pause and think rather than attack.
We must choose to respond rather than react.
Engaging in reasoned choice is a skill that can be learned, developed, strengthened and facilitated through meditation. I was fortunate enough to be taught meditation and yoga as a young girl and as a result of my daily practice I was able to stay centred and focused during times of significant stress growing up in a home of violence and addictions. I made good choices in the wake of chaos; I fostered good friendships, continued my training in athletics, made the national team, and put myself through university. My meditation practice continued to underscore the importance of being present to what is, instead of ruminating about the past or experiencing anxiety about the future.
There have been a million more times in my life that I needed to be present, not giving way to fear or anger, and in the last 6 months the value of my meditation practice was dramatically revealed. My father died 12 months ago, and my mother 6 months ago, and the range of emotions was all over the place within my family.
Instead of “going there”, I stayed centred. I wasn’t emotionally yanked around all day long, nor did I become exhausted. I meditated, took walks and generally took care of myself. It was a difficult time. The thing is, if you are not careful to curate the energy around you, you become that which you least desire. If you allow anger to reside, your world will reflect anger. If you invite cruelty into your heart and mind, then one way or another you will express cruelty. If you see some value in pettiness, then your words and deeds will follow suit.
My mother died in such a way that created pain for all of us, and when she passed I was grateful for her peace. Amidst the chaos, I carried on responsibilities for funeral arrangements, buriels, obits, flowers etc. with gratitude and hopefully some modicum of grace.
These examples may seem extreme, but in all of life’s ups and downs it becomes obvious that the only way through these challenges is to remain grounded and hopefully even hold space for the individuals suffering. Holding space is a practice of remaining objective, non-judgemental and non-reactive during stressful times.
Dealing with mental illness in our family has also been difficult, but everyone on the planet has had different life experiences that will challenge their integrity, sense of self and the ability to extend compassion and love to self and others. The beauty is that we have the choice each and every time to rise up to our challenges. Do we choose to react or respond? Never easy, but one thing I know for sure is that choosing compassionate response is always worth it and just like any other pursuit or new skill, the more you practice, the easier it becomes and the better you get. You develop a sense of equanimity, a spaciousness of mind which fosters the ability to be responsive rather than reactive.
Michael A. Singer wrote the book The Untethered Soul. I have read it a few times and frequently recommend it to my meditation students. In it he says:”You have to transcend the personal, and as you do, you will naturally awaken to the higher aspects of your being.”
Singer illustrates beautifully what happens when we allow our higher selves to be forefront:
“How does it feel when you drift up? You don’t feel as much anger, fear, or self-consciousness. You don’t feel resentment toward people. You don’t close or get tight as often. Things still happen that you don’t want to happen, but they don’t seem to touch you as much…It’s just what naturally happens when you let go of the lower vibrations of your being.”
This is where I reside. It is not unique to me and is accessible to all. It does take commitment and practice. It means forgiving yourself when you slip and with intention and action, re-commit to living as our best self. It means that you develop hope and compassion for the health and well-being of all, not just those that are nice to you. When we choose love over fear and anger, we change the world, and for me that is in meditation, one breath at a time.