Home » Progress » The One That Never Scares Me

The One That Never Scares Me

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.

Cover of "The Four Agreements: A Practica...

Cover via Amazon

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.


23 thoughts on “The One That Never Scares Me

  1. I confess — I only have a limited degree of choice. A lot of that has to do with bipolar. I spent my whole life listening to people tell me I could choose what to feel, what to DO in response to a feeling. And I felt like such a failure because there are times when I can’t. And no, I don’t mean ‘out of control’ (though I have been that at times). I mean that there are times when the goddamned phone is going to get thrown, and the only thing I can choose is to make it land in the couch where it won’t break. There are times when I am going to break something, and the only thing I can choose is to make sure it isn’t one of my children or my do or my husband. (bubble wrap is great, but in its absence, I keep a collection of cans waiting to recycle that I can smash to hell and back). There are times when I am going to roar.

    • I do understand what you’re saying. I’m so glad you’re able to anticipate somewhat and prepare for what you need. My ex had anger problems with his Aspergers and he was very verbal with it, too. I had to deal with all of it before any of it was diagnosed. I guess I’m too sensitive a person. I got to the point where I wasn’t important at all. It nearly killed me. Someone actually asked me if I felt better once the diagnosis came. I couldn’t understand how knowing that it would never stop was supposed to make me feel better. I’m glad you have someone who can take it.

      • I think, too, that it isn’t hopeless in my case. Yeah, this will always be part of me. But sooner or later, we’ll get the meds right (I’m in the midst of a yearlong quest to get the chemical cocktail right, and a lot of that means backing off of one med while putting on another) When the meds are doing what they should, I have a lot more choice than other times.

        I think that’s awful that your ex’s getting a diagnosis actually meant that nothing would ever change. I know part of that is because he was an adult. But part of it sounds like he was throwing up a resistance to change (common with Asperger’s) and not seeking solutions, because some symptoms can be treated, even for adults who have gone undiagnosed. I’d give my right arm to get rid of this anger (and it will go, it will go, someday it will go).

      • He had the symptom of forgetfulness about other people’s needs and feelings (and often not seeing them in the first place, or even seeing the truth.) Most every time I brought up something we had discussed and worked out to both our satisfaction, he would’ve forgotten about it so that for him the stress and his hurt feelings about a situation were new again. All those perceived negatives went into his ‘gunny sack’ so I was constantly a villian in his eyes. He was resistant to my idea of post-its on the bathroom mirror (to help him remember and prove, in his own handwriting, that we’d talked about a few things before.) It was his psychologist who explained to me after his evaluation, that my life with him wasn’t going to get better unless I followed his lead, always. Then she let me know that if I was her patient, she would never encourage me to live that kind of life. Even so, I tried until he gave up. And when he forgot that he’d given up, I had the strength not to take him back.

        With your determination and attention, I’m sure your anger will go. I’m rooting for you.

  2. I completely agree with the concept of choice. You have no control over the emotion itself, that’s true, but you can always decide what to do with it. Anger does not necessarily demand an angry response. (I’m repeating this over and over these days as I deal with my insane ex-husband. Let it go, Averil, just let it go.)

    • It sounds so hard, Averil, and I understand about having to repeat it to yourself over and over. I’m glad you’re not dealing with it alone. I don’t have to deal with my ex much at all, but knowing what he’s just done is testing every coping skill I have. The full story hit me in the face a couple hours after I posted this. I’m choosing about every thirty seconds today. I remembered just in time.

  3. Hi Sparks,

    I love this post! I wish someone had taught this to me long ago so that it would be an engrained habit. Instead, I caught it above someone’s desk and it resonated with me so that I asked them to copy it for me. It simply had never occurred to me so it seemed so…empowering.

    I have practiced it, especially now, in times of stress and it helps. It especially helps when I begin my day in positivity as a direct choice and do my best to resolve that I will not give in to negativity. Although, as you said it requires a continuous concerted effort it is worthwhile. But then I forget and I wish to strangle someone, or my shoulders are tense bars between my ears and I endure pain bt. my shoulder blades that lasts for weeks. Mostly, because I am at the mercy of all the things around me and they can be overwhelming.

    Thank you so much for the reminder. It is an an extremely valuable life lesson.



    • You’re so welcome, Coco. I wrote it to remind myself, too.

      Somehow I missed this comment from back in June. I’m so sorry! I’m not able to tweet as much (or as swiftly) as I’d like, so I’ve been missing you. I hope business is good this summer and that all is well with you.

  4. I too came to realize it is all about choice. Even deciding not to choose is a choice. It’s not about what happens to us along the way; it’s about how we react to what happens to us along the way. That is where we show our mettle.

  5. That little sentence (You chose your reaction …) is perfectly put. I will keep that in mind. Am watching too many people just collapse the second they get overwhelmed with emotions, instead of “dealing” with them.

  6. I absolutely love that painting.

    I like the idea of reacting calmly to situations when I can. I remind myself that I could potentially react any way I want. That means I can sit back and think before I respond. No one says we have to respond right away.

    I am a bit obsessed with the idea that physiology plays a 50 to 70 percent role in this. Sure I can tell myself to be calm, but how much of my personality / cortisol levels have changed at that point? I have to excercise to get those good brain chemicals flowing (they continue to flow long after you’re done exercising) in order to have the physical calm.

    Oh, eating omega 3s is good for the brain too. Reduces inflammation = reduces stress and helps with positive thinking.

    • I know what you mean about physiology because I’ve experienced that, but one of the difficult things about beginning there is the effect that lack of sleep and depression (and lack of money) have on getting certain habits started. They work great after a couple of weeks, but those weeks can be too much to get through when one’s reserves are almost nonexistent.

  7. Sometimes I feel like my life is something I made, and other times it is something that is happening to me. The former is so, so much better. Take that by the horns and run with it as far as it will take you.

  8. Excellent post, Ré. (I’m back from my sojourn now.)…..and thank you for the link. Drilling the word and the process of choice into our psyche is a powerful tool. Liberating often. I don’t remember often enough. Maybe I should and I would get less wound up about some stuff and choose to get wound up about stuff that requires a “wound-up” response. A timely reminder.

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