We all struggle with our reactions when we are frustrated or when we are inadvertently exposed to drama or upsetting moments at work and in life. When that happens, often we react in ways that we later come to regret. Those moments of intense “reactivity” are frequently the source of arguments, unkind word, comments that can’t be “unremembered” or unsaid, and therefore cause damage to professional and personal relationships alike. When we look back on these definitive forks in our relationships, we can usually see that we were needlessly upset or that we made assumptions or got drawn into a heated moment despite knowing better. What’s most aggravating about this is that from the distance of a later time, we can also see that we needn’t have reacted in any way at all, and the situation would have defused itself immediately, simply by our non-action.
This all came to mind as I was listening to a guided meditation. The leader of the meditation, I’ll call him Carl, suggested the most interesting imagery, and it has remained in my mind ever since I heard it. In meditation, the goal is to still the mind, or in any event, allow it simply to be, noticing what floats through it but not following any particular thought beyond its appearance. Carl suggested thinking of your mind as a screen, like a movie screen, on which the events, thoughts, actions or occurrences around us (or in our mind) are projected. So if you imagine yourself like that kind of screen moment by moment in your life, you might behave differently. He gave this example: ” When a raging fire is projected upon the screen, the screen does not burn up. And when a raging storm is projected upon the screen, the screen does not get wet or torn by the wind”. In a certain way, that seems so obvious. But if you were thinking about your own mind, it often feels as though when a fire is projected on our mind because we observe it, we are often consumed in flames. So the idea that a screen only projects and isn’t materially touched by the images upon it was really a moment of epiphany for me. Maybe you are finding it just as extraordinary a notion.
We could bring the same way of being to these moments when we stumble into minefields of reaction. Imagine the moment when a coworker is ranting and you find yourself nearly pulled into the fray — either with an opposing viewpoint, or by joining in the rant. What if, instead, you were like the meditative screen — allowing the activity to project itself onto you, but not be consumed by the emotion. This isn’t the same as being stoic or unfeeling — and it doesn’t leave you as a strangely uncaring colleague, friend or spouse . Instead, you become a mirror that reflects back calm and neutrality rather than being drawn into the storm.
The same principle can be applied to personal relationships. Anytime there is a great deal of emotion percolating around you or near you, you run the risk of being consumed by the contagious mood. But you don’t have to be. By adapting this reflective, screen-like mental model, you are left instead with a choice of what to say, how to react and who to be in that moment. Choice is always the source of freedom, and when you are in a state of choice you can craft your actions to be consistent with who you are creating yourself to be in work, in life or in relationships, rather than being purely at the effect of a reflex. This gives you enormous power and freedom; the power and freedom to choose and impact the way you want tomorrow to be. When tomorrow comes, instead of being damaged by a momentary reaction, it is free of regret and full of possibility. I hope you find this imagery as interesting and effective as I have. Let me know!
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