On a recent flight, a stewardess made an announcement for all the passengers on board to buckle up for our departure. Everyone on the plane was exhausted, because our flight had been delayed nearly 3 hours and so we were all eager to depart. As I buckled up, I had a cup of tea sitting in between my thighs. Unfortunately, even though the tea had a lid on it, my clumsiness buckling up led me to accidentally squeeze the cup and all of a sudden it seemed like a volcano of tea had exploded, which spewed primarily onto me and the ceiling, but it also landed on the seat of the lady sitting in front of me, and on the gentleman to my right.
Luckily, the tea was no longer hot, but I was embarrassed and felt my face flush. I apologized and the gentleman to my right laughed about it, and was as kind as they come. On the other hand, the woman in front of me gazed back at me with a horrified look, and then proceeded to flag down the flight attendant and she said to her, “Can you get me a napkin? The woman behind me spilled her smoothie on my seat.”
The defensive part of me wanted to react and say, “It wasn’t a smoothie. It was just a green tea.” But instead I apologized again and the woman averted her gaze from me and still said nothing. The lady’s husband shot me an angry look that made me want to hide under my seat. I took a deep breath and reminded myself they were probably exhausted, just like I was, because of the flight delay. I went on to have a great conversation with the gentleman to my right about our beloved cats. I felt gratitude for his grace and willingness to overlook my mistake.
Later as I meditated on this experience, it occurred to me that every day we have the choice to react like the lady sitting on the plane in front of me or we can choose the response of gentleman sitting beside me. I was also reminded that I can sometimes overreact like the woman on the plane and I also can choose to be the best version of myself, and offer compassion, like the man next to me did.
It seems like our go to reactions these days are demonizing one another and choosing fear, anger and hate. When I practice yoga, I often take a deep breath in and then I notice the pause between my inhalations and exhalations. When I find this space on my yoga mat between my breathing, I am also reminded to find the pause off of my yoga mat. I invite you right as you are reading this article, to take a deep breath in and then pause between your inhale and exhale. It may take a few tries to notice the pause that occurs naturally between your breath cycles. Finding the pause between my inhale and exhale, reminds me of the importance of pausing before I overreact to the difficulties that I face in life.
Bryant McGill wisely said, “The conflicts we have with the outside world are often the conflicts we have within ourselves.” In my own life, I am aware that when I am more reactive to other people, it is usually a sign that I am overwhelmed by life and projecting some of my feelings of anger, anxiety or sadness onto others. My reactivity can also serve as a cue to me that I am not doing enough to tend to my own needs.
There is a mindfulness technique known at S.T.O.P that might be supportive to you if you ever struggle with reactivity towards others.
Stop and allow yourself a moment to settle down and press the pause button.
Take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system and enter the present moment. You can even add a mantra to your breath, such as inhaling the word peace and exhaling the word anxiety.
Observe your feelings, thoughts and even what is happening in your body. Where are you experiencing tension in your body? What stories are you creating in your mind? Are you aware of any particular emotions? If you are mad at another person, how might putting yourself in their shoes help?
Proceed with identifying something that will be nurturing to you. What do you need to do to continue to calm yourself down? Maybe you need to call a friend or intentionally do something to care for yourself. What have you learned about yourself from this situation? Mindfulness is a practice that seeks to help us to live in the present moment in a compassionate way. Consider whether you are responding to both yourself and others in a compassionate way.
So when we feel reactive it can be an opportunity to S.T.O.P. and as we pause we will inevitably learn more about our self and we will become more mindful, self-aware, compassionate, calm and present. Once I S.T.O.P, I come closer to finding kindness instead of fear, understanding in lieu of anger and compassion in exchange for hate. As we learn to be still and find that pause and space in life, we also stop being as reactive and irritated by others as we have in the past. But even when we do have human moments of being irritated and reactive, learning to pause helps us to find a compassionate response.
Let’s find moments to S.T.O.P.,
I originally wrote the article above for the Mountain Mirror. http://www.mountainmirror.com/