I learned one of my patterns of behaviour today.
Two people who are each important to me are engaging in conflict. To me, watching from the outside, it is hard to understand the conflict. I’ve done a lot of work trying to de-escalate the situation, trying to talk to each party over the past while and keep them calm so that larger conflict will not arise. I’ve been doing it totally unconsciously.
Today, based on a conversation I had, and then my resulting turmoil of thought, came the ah-ha moment. I was worrying over everything and so I went snorkelling with my dogs. It was nice to get in the cool water, see a different world and not think about anything except what was in front of my face for a while. On my drive home, the thought popped into my head. Where am I in this situation? Where does my responsibility lie? How can I be most true to myself?
I realized that I have been working really hard to manage this situation, to the point of exhaustion and worry. One of my natural actions is to manage things, control them in order to manage my exposure and vulnerability. If I can work really hard and keep everyone happy, keep everyone talking and feeling good, then at the end of the day, the situation won’t blow up and I won’t be caught in the crossfire. Which means I’m running back and forth, not telling anyone anything, soothing other people’s worries and angers, leaving nothing for myself.
So what is my responsibility here? My responsibility is to myself. I want to stop controlling the situation (it wasn’t working well anyhow) and stop trying to manage and peacemake. I am just making myself sick with worry when I do this.
Instead, I hope to take the energy I was wasting doing that and use it to strengthen my own spirit. I want to turn my efforts inward, because what I realized was that I was afraid that I won’t have the strength to face and deal with the fallout of this conflict. I haven’t trusted that I am strong enough on my own, in my own right, to deal with the terrible outcomes I have been imagining. Once I realized that I didn’t have faith in my own strength, I was able to step back for a second and see that oh, wait. Even if the worst thing happens, as long as I can remain true to MY self and who I wish to be, as long as I act in integrity with who I am and in a way that is the truest expression of my self and my values, then I remain strong no matter what troubles I face.
And then I picked up this book I’ve been reading and it synchronistically supported what I’d just realized for myself. The book is called Being, written by Bennet Wong and Jock McKeen. The part I’m reading talks about a continuum between power and strength approaches to life. In our society, the emphasis is put on the power approach to life, and we’ve become unbalanced on the continuum. They advocate the need to move fluidly between the strength and power approaches so we can benefit from both. Anyways, here is the excerpt on Control <–> Vulnerability, by Bennet Wong and Jock McKeen.
Control <–> Vulnerability
Although the option exists to face all facets of experience, children are quickly taught to control themselves and the environment, minimizing vulnerability. To maximize pleasure and security, they learn to control their parent figures by adopting a pleasing attitude, and moulding their behaviour to assure parental protection. Of course, to control their parents, children must learn what the adults do and do not want, and then modify their behaviour accordingly. Children learn to control facial expressions, emotions, and actions, reading their parents for feedback of appropriateness. In short, they learn to control themselves in order to control others, setting a pattern for the rest of their lives. The prize is an increased sense of security and pleasure; the price is the loss of spontaneous expression, and the forfeiting of much authentic, innate experience. This becomes the prototype for subsequent relationships, and indeed for people’s way of relating to all of life. Instead of accepting information from the external world and responding to it (that is, being vulnerable), people generally try to control themselves and their environment in order to gain more predictability. In contrast, if one is willing to be vulnerable, personal strength can be enhanced by one’s willingness to respond to life instead of resisting it.
Control of both self and other involves power. Whenever people are prepared to experience all facets of life, strength develops. In the power attitude, life is an adversary. In the strength mode, a person is a willing participant in the life process; although there will be pain, uncertainty, and vulnerability, the individual grows ever stronger in the capacity to embrace these, along with joy and pleasure.
Today’s learning and reading reinforces the desire that has developed in me to be the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from life and try to find a hole to weather the storm. I want to be the person that watches the storm approach while standing in the open field, feeling the winds rise and the rain on my skin, knowing that there is danger and also know that there is beauty and value in the storm that I want to be part of. Facing life head-on, and being rocked and rolled by it, is painful and scary, but what the book excerpt says brings me a lot of hope (which I’ve recently been learning is a good feeling, not a threatening one): “the individual grows ever stronger in the capacity to embrace (pain, uncertainty, and vulnerability), along with joy and pleasure.”
Accepting and embracing the difficult emotions opens me up and strengthens me, increasing my capacity for other emotions, too, emotions like joy and pleasure.
I love the idea that life is full of adventures, and every day is a new one. Each adventure is as worthy and valid as the next, so no matter if my adventure is working as a pizza delivery girl, or going snorkelling, or being a good dog mom, or loving my family or facing my fears, each adventure is a treasure and each is valuable. Instead of waking and being afraid of what the day will bring, I desire, I strive for, I hope to wake up looking forward to my newest adventure and find an authentic experience of life and emotion in every moment.