Recently a friend said something that reminded me of a thing I’d forgotten for a while. Then last night I made a remark about the power I saw in a friends’ painting. Today I’m having that critical mass feeling.
Ideas I can memorize in a simple way help me travel through my inner life with much more calm. More than affirmations, shortcuts back to universal truths work to keep me centered. Because of this, I love The Four Agreements. Some find the long form explanations of them in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book to be too New Age-y and specific to Toltec philosophy, but I read between its lines and see clearly that the internal agreements they describe are the essence of getting along with ourselves and with others in our world. I see past the New Age-ness to the fact that the author is explaining something that works if one embraces it and continues to work within it. I’ve done my best to memorize the short forms of The Four Agreements because when I come back to them, I can move through what life throws at me with much less pain.
But my shortest shortcut is another simple truth that helps even more — when I remember it. It was taught to me by Sherry Petro, a counselor in the Chicago area who succeeded a while back in teaching me the most important lesson I’ve learned so far. She pointed out that I can choose my response to a feeling. Not the emotion itself, but my reaction, my response. After pausing to let that sink in, she went on to offer an explanation, but when it comes to the emotional truth of things, I can be a very quick study. Simply hearing the word “choose” began a cascade of thought inside me that still informs much of what I believe in.
The world and its human-made (societal and political) roadblocks often cause that unnecessary rush of adrenaline that overloads our bodies and clouds the path to clarity. Without the money-ruled, excessively stress-inducing sides of our society, we’d be coping better with the challenges of the natural world, and adrenaline would go back to being the thing that helps us when sudden danger approaches. In other words: when the monthly bills, the insurance payment, the water bill and the property taxes are due and no one has hired you, it’s hard to believe that you can choose your response. But you can. I can.
An immediate problem won’t just go away, but in each moment you can release your shoulders from your ears (relax your body), breathe, and create a space where you can recognize bits of helpful information or even paths to answers. Sure, excitement can help us get things done, but the clenching tension and finger-pointing confinement of anger and frustration never do.
In my case, joblessness, taxes, convoluted inefficiency at government offices, gunshots, and love lost (or not even acknowledged) had derailed me. Today after a random precious night of sleep, my mind decided it was time to remember what I forgot.
In a dream I was saying the word “choose” and as I woke, my body relaxed because it knew it could. I don’t control things outside of me, and the day might not go my way, but waking up to the world wasn’t a horrible thing. I didn’t bound out of bed (because I just don’t do that sort of thing), but I opened my eyes and relaxed my response to the light of day because I could. I had the choice. It isn’t the kind of choice that makes immediate sense — like choosing vanilla or chocolate, sweater or jacket. It’s a choice that doesn’t seem to exist unless you compensate for its invisibility by remembering it’s there.
When I work at it, I simply say the word in my head. Choose. During crises, when I remember, I say it a lot. Some days, recognizing that it’s there feels like the only thing I can do. There’s power in that.
Choices are powerful. That’s why some scare us even though we’ve wanted them since we were children. This one never scares me.