Let me be the first to admit that I have not always been the “glass half full” girl. In fact, I have a bad habit of spinning about things. And yet, when I look back at those times when I was stressed, worried, fearful, or panic-stricken, the passage of time helps me recognize what wasted energy all of that was. I wish I could tell you I’ve crossed into pure enlightenment, that I meditate daily, am close friends with the Dalai Lama and have let all my cares and worries go. Not so much. Over the years I’ve done my fair share of personal growth work, reading lots of self-help books, doing seminars focused on living a better, happier life. My lizard brain has a hard time giving up certain stories and beliefs. I find myself clinging to old worn out thoughts about me and my place in the world like a pair of comfy old PJs that I won’t get rid of because I’m afraid I’ll never find anything that soft again.
Take for example, YESTERDAY. I live on a beautiful piece of property overlooking hills and farmland. It’s the whole reason we bought this old farmhouse. One of the challenges was making the property beautiful again. It was filled with loads of trees, making it difficult to grow grass or plant things that need, well, sun. Yesterday, we hired a tree guy to come and remove four more trees.
As they began taking down the first sugar maple next to my neighbor’s barn, the neighbor came out spewing how we shouldn’t be removing one hundred year old trees, and we better not touch her barn. This neighbor has been a bit of a thorn in our sides. She’s one of those people who is just plain miserable and anxious. She doesn’t like change, and feels compelled to have us see things her way. She’s insulted us on a few occasions, and suffice to say, she’s not inviting us over for cocktails any time soon. So when she stood in her yard complaining we were tree killers, I reacted. No punches were thrown, but this person just hit me at the wrong time. I was hurrying to get out the door to work, and I just plain wasn’t in the mood to hear her rant.
I took a deep breathe, and said, “Do you actually think this tree company isn’t going to be careful? Do you see they are roping and securing things so as not to cause harm to anyone’s property?” She didn’t stop. We were tree killers. Note to arborists: We have about 15 of these beautiful trees still left on our property. So please don’t judge. Finally, I simply said, “Just go away.” Damn! I wish I’d had a better comeback.
I headed to work, and for the next two hours was absolutely spinning over this interaction. How dare she think so little of me and our family! How dare she render her unsolicited opinions! She’s ruined my morning! And all the while, there was another part of me noticing how this one interaction was now polluting my day. It threw me off. I felt intruded upon, and angry that someone would be so disrespectful and offensive. I called my husband to download. And, while he had been part of the same interaction, he was just fine. He said, simply, “Honey, come from empathy. She’s a tortured soul who needs to grind about things. Don’t let it ruin your day.”
I knew he was right. I knew I could have simply assured Miss Cranky Pants that no one would harm her barn, and that while we appreciated her concern, this was our property to do with what we wanted. But I was too pissed to come from any empathetic or enlightened place. I finally took a breath and let it go, but even today, as the tree guys cleaned up the property I am still feeling the effects of her criticism. Why? Because I was making it about me.
I was feeling defensive and made wrong instead of realizing this was all about her, not me. It’s in these moments that I wish I had superhero armor that would repel the comments and judgments of others. I would prefer not to have to feel those feelings to the depths I feel them. Because, it’s true. Her upset wasn’t about me. I could have, in that moment, taken myself out of the equation, risen above it, come from that empathetic place rather than feel defensive or blamed.
Some of you may side with me on this. Or some may have taken the argument to an even higher level. Or some may have dealt with it like my dear husband. I have, at times, visited every part of that spectrum. I’ve escalated interactions and I’ve risen above them. And every time I’ve risen above, I always feel better. Trying to justify my position or get someone else to agree or like me has always ended in me feeling misunderstood, defensive and just plain crappy. This particular set of comfy behaviors doesn’t serve me. And yet, I still get sucked into that vortex of “why don’t you like me?”. There have been times when an interaction such as this may have sent me to the pastry store to quell my anger by tearing into a chocolate croissant. I didn’t head for the pastry shop this time, but I did lose valuable time being distracted.
The stories we tell ourselves really do create our reality. Thoughts really do become things. This explains why some people who appear to have extraordinary challenges, are able to rise above the obstacles while others spend their time grinding about it. If I want more peace and happiness in my life, I’m going to have to part with those worn out PJs in favor of a new way of approaching conflict and judgment. I have to give up being right or feeling defensive or made wrong. I have to give up that comfy old way of being. Miss Cranky Pants only impacts me to the degree I allow her to. So simple to understand and yet often hard to do. So I’m working on it. It’s a Kumbaya moment. I have to raise my vibration, spending less time spinning and more time coming back to center. Because, I don’t want to indulge in Miss Cranky Pant’s vibration of anger and anxiety, do I? I don’t want to have that energy pulsing through my head and heart, spilling all over my personal space.
As the tree guys finish up in my yard today, the difference in the amount of light coming through is a wonderful metaphor. There will be other things that someone somewhere isn’t going to like. I have a choice as to whether I’ll engage or rise above. I can choose to defend or justify, or I can simply acknowledge and move on, knowing it really isn’t about me. I aim to stay focused on the light coming through. And as for Miss Cranky Pants, I’m working on it. I don’t know how enlightened this is, but I am looking forward to the privacy hedge we plan to put up in place of those trees, creating an evergreen shield between us and Miss Cranky Pants.