RESPOND, DON'T REACT
So being that I am a work in progress, here’s what I’ve been spending some of my10000days working on: respond, don’t react.
Truth? It’s the thing I always work on and will continue to work on my entire life. I hope to be better at it someday. Or maybe I should just hope that I can be better at it on some days. Finding the space between the stimulus and the reaction so that I can respond? It’s hard to do.
My life is so full and for that I am very grateful. That fullness comes with its ups and its downs. In my home there is a handmade sign that says: Yes my hands are full but my heart is over flowing. It is indeed overflowing – most of the time with happiness and gratitude, but there can also be sadness and worry. It’s balancing the flow of those ups and downs in your heart that is the thing of life. On those days when I can’t achieve the balance I strive for, when the Chi in the house is off, those are the days when I really need to be aware of my response to things. Those are the days when I am reacting and not responding.
Last year, I read Pema Chodron’s book called Taking the Leap: Freeing ourselves from Old habits and fears. She talks about shenpa, the Tibetan word that means attachment, she describes the experience of shenpa as that moment when we get hooked. When we get emotionally triggered, we get hooked, our balance is off, we leave the present moment, we tell ourselves a story – and then we react to things instead of responding. I need to watch out for shenpa.
Pema Chodron talks about a story from the book The Search for a Nonviolent Future by Michael Nagler that illustrates being open and present and not getting hooked. I will do my best to give you the essence of the story here. It concerns a Jewish couple, who were living in Lincoln, Nebraska where the husband had a prominent role at the synagogue, and his wife was a nurse. In 1992 they began to receive threatening phone calls and notes from the Ku Klux Klan. Of course this was illegal and not condoned in this town, but nevertheless it was happening. The police told them it was probably the work of the Grand Dragon, head of the Klan, in that town. They knew of his reputation as a man filled with hatred. But, they also knew that he was disabled and confined to a wheelchair.
Each day, a voice would come through the phone, threaten to kill them, destroy their property, and harm their family and friends. Then one day they decided to try something. In the next phone call, when he was ranting at them, they waited for an opportunity to speak. They knew that the angry caller had a hard time getting around in his wheel chair, so when they could get a word in, they offered him a ride to the grocery store. The man on the other end didn’t speak for a while, and when he did, the anger had left his voice. He said, “Well, I’ve got that taken care of, but… thanks for asking.”
They had more in mind than ending the harassment: they wanted to help free him from the torment of his prejudice and rage. Rather than wait for his call, they began calling him, and told him if he needed help, they would be there for him. Not long after that they went to his apartment, taking him a home-cooked dinner, and the three of them got to know one another. Eventually, he did begin to ask them for help. One day when they arrived for a visit, he took off the ring he wore and gave it to them. It was a Nazi ring. With that gesture he was breaking his association with the KKK, telling them, “I denounce everything they stand for. But it’s not the people in the organizations that I hate… If I were to say I hate all Klansmen because they’re Klansman… I would still be a racist.” Rather than replacing one prejudice with another, he chose to let go of closed-mindedness altogether.
This story has stuck with me now for more than a year. I keep thinking about how they just didn’t get hooked. They responded, they didn’t react and in my mind, they really had every right to. And what happened was so great, so much better than just getting the horrible harassment to stop. What has stuck with me most is the idea that if they could do this in the face of such hateful bias, than certainly I can channel that and respond rather than react as I have never had anywhere near that kind of an experience. Yes my hands might but full and some days the Chi might be “off” in the house but I should be able to manage that.
I am practicing staying in the present – practicing not getting attached or hooked. Trying to respond and not react. On most days I would give myself a C. For me, it comes down to something I wrote about in my first post: Take good care of yourself – when you do, you can be more present for everyone, including you. And, you, know, everyone’s doing the best they can, including me.