How To Win A Tug Of War

I got mad today. Really mad. So angry that I shook as I spoke. When I saw the missed call on my phone, my spidey senses said, "Don't return the call." But I did anyway. And then a train wreck ensued.

Some people seem to bring out the worst in us. I've reconciled this by seeing it as an opportunity to look my demons in the face; to acknowledge my reaction and to choose something different.

Choosing Something Different

Pema Chodron has a book and an online course by this title. I know because I subscribed to the course yet have not shown up for class. For many days I ran her title through my head as a mantra: the power to choose something different. And although it brought my attention to making a different choice during moments of reactivity, something about those words felt not quite right.

I couldn't even begin to stop the train from derailing during my phone conversation, which happened to take place in Costco. I walked around the store in a strange daze while words flew from my mouth and emotions surged through my body. The people in Costco wandered about, oblivious to my state, and I felt as if I was both participant and witness to this strange scene.

I had to get off the phone but could not manage a way back to a civil conclusion of the conversation. I finally stated, "I have to go" and ended the call. I don't remember the drive home. I do remember the flood of ensuing emotions and thoughts.

Fear of Exposure

The fear of being exposed: how could I be of help to someone else if I can't even control my own temper? How could I help another navigate through suffering when I clearly hadn't found my way? Thoughts of disappointment: hasn't the culmination of my years of practices resulted in a better outcome than this? Where are my tools? Where is my peace of mind and compassionate heart?

And in between thoughts I'd remind myself to be gentle, to be kind with myself and the other. I felt more shocked than anything else by the surge of anger. It had been a long time since something had drawn such fire from me. And that upset me because I felt like I'd had a false assumption of being anger-free; well, at least shaking-kind-of-anger free.

Upon returning home, I perched on my front step and stayed with the feelings as they came and went in waves. I posed my questions to the tree in my yard:

"Do you always stay and face the demons?" "Or is there a time when you simply walk away from the situation or person, even if the work you do together is intended to benefit others?"

Surfing the Waves of Emotion

It wasn't a life or death issue. It was a phone conversation, but one of many that had elicited smaller waves of anger. This particular call was the kind of wave that you couldn't surf. It just pulls you under and tosses you around. If I stayed with the current situation, would I overcome the anger and would the relationship improve? Or was I just waiting for the wave to grow into a tsunami?

The power to choose something different didn't come during my conversation in Costco. I felt powerless as my anger fueled my struggle with the other person. I was well aware it was a power struggle. I could hear myself and my part in it, but I wasn't able to let go of my end of the rope.

Then I suddenly remembered what was wrong with the wording of my mantra. The book wasn't entitled the power to choose something different. The title is The Freedom To Choose Something Different. It's time to show up for class with Pema. It's time to let go of my end of the rope. It's time to trade power for freedom.

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