There have been countless moments in my life when someone or something triggered a big emotion within me. And that emotion always spawned an even bigger, often immediate, reaction from me. Most of those, I have later regretted.
We are currently living in one of the most collectively stressful times in the last 50 years, and everywhere people’s reactions are demonstrating the strain. Everyone seems to be on edge, holding a smoldering flame just below the surface that is ready to ignite at the slightest provocation.
We’ve seen it this year at our summer cabin tucked away in the Sierra mountains. Typically, people visiting here have come to hike in the serene mountain landscape and show up relaxed, patient, kind, and respectful. However, this year from our porch, we have witnessed multiple instances of people yelling out their car window at strangers, honking angrily, displaying rude hand gestures, using foul language … all because they couldn’t get the parking space they wanted.
At the grocery store last week, Tom was waiting in his car when a truck pulled up essentially blocking his car and the one next to him. When a young woman got out of the car next to him, she was verbally assaulted by the man in the truck, screaming at her that he was going to “@!%$ her up” if she ever cut him off on the road like that again! His frightening tirade went on for several minutes—long enough for Tom to notice a 10-year-old boy sitting in the truck, witnessing this angry outburst.
We’ve all seen the videos of people walking into restaurants, assaulting people peacefully enjoying a meal, insulting flight attendants who are giving directions, or screaming obscenities at people going about their daily business. To say emotions are running high would be an understatement.
This week I’ve asked myself, “How would I respond? How do I want to respond?” I’d like to think that I would be calm, courageous, and level-headed, that I would be the proponent and demonstrator of a better way. But when we’re shocked, scared or angry… none of us really knows, do we?
Here’s what I do know: We can’t change or control the emotions we feel or that are triggered within us. The moment an event happens, we feel what we feel. Period. But, while we may not have agency over our feelings, we do have it over our actions. We will never react well if our actions are driven solely by our emotions. While we should feel and acknowledge our emotions, we do not have to act on them. But the ability to have this level of self-control doesn’t just materialize out of the blue. If we have not been practicing the discipline of placing a large pause button between our emotions and our actions in small and frequent ways… we will not be likely to respond wisely when the stakes are high. We must practice now, in everyday life, to prepare for the big events of the future.
We are standing at a crossroads. If you are a Monday Morning Stretch subscriber, you undoubtedly desire to be a powerful communicator, inspirational leader, and substantial force for good in the world. This dramatic time in our collective story provides daily opportunities to be just that. When everyone around us goes up energetically toward fear, fighting, intimidation, and panic… we can come down into strength, calm, peace, courage, and love. When others are triggered emotionally and meet fear with fear, panic with panic, anger with anger… we can hit our internal pause button and put a little space between our emotions and our actions. We can do better. We can show what is possible. We can stand for the alternative.
This week, practice the art of separating your emotions from your actions—just a moment of pause. Just a tiny bit of space between the two will help you respond in a way that adds to the solution versus the problem, the resolution versus the conflict, the love versus the hate.
“When you feel yourself in the grip of an emotion such as jealousy or anger or sorrow, detach yourself from it. Take a step back. When you do that, you can allow the emotion to run through you without causing negative thoughts or actions.”
~ Gary Zukav, best-selling author