When we allow outside forces to upset us, we’re giving our power away. Yesterday as I was driving, waiting to take a right on red, the man behind me started laying on his horn. He couldn’t see the oncoming traffic because his view was blocked by a van to my left in the next lane, but I could not have taken that right safely, so I was waiting. My kids were in the car, and as they do, they were asking me for a play-by-play of what was happening. “Why is that man honking at you?” “Because he wants me to drive.” “Why aren’t you driving?” “Because it isn’t safe.” “So why is he honking at you?” “Because he’s full of rage.” “Why is he full of rage?” Anyway, you get the picture.
Not only was this guy honking, he had his other hand up in the air, and I have no doubt he was shouting expletives at me, because his face was red and his lips were moving in my rearview mirror. When I took the turn, he pulled up next to me at the next light, and my kids were looking out the window at him, even though I told them not to worry about it. My son, who’s like an investigative reporter, wanted me to roll down the window so he could ask the guy why he was angry. I did not oblige, but we did talk about anger, and how it’s a natural feeling everyone experiences and that the important thing is what you do about it. We also talked about frustration, and about inner power.
We’re all going to have our moments, I certainly have mine. It’s possible that guy was having an exceptionally bad day. Maybe there are really challenging things happening in his life right now. Maybe there was an emergency at home. Or maybe he always drives that way, because he feels deeply dissatisfied with his life, and the way it’s unfolding. The thing is, if something that small gets a person that upset that quickly, that rage or despair was just underneath the surface.
Sometimes my kids get upset about something someone else has said or done (sometimes they get upset with each other, too, haha), and a big phrase at our house is, “Don’t give your power away.” If, for example, my daughter wants to play with her older brother, but she doesn’t want to play the game on his terms, sometimes she’ll come find me with her lip quivering and her voice about 10 decibels higher than usual. Other times she’ll yell and I’ll tell her to take a couple of deep breaths so she can talk to me in a “regular voice”, and that she doesn’t have to give her power away, just because she’s upset about something her brother is doing or not doing, and sometimes it’s reversed. Sometimes my son will do something he knows he shouldn’t, and when I ask him what’s going on, he’ll try to tell me his sister did something that caused him to do this thing he shouldn’t have done, at which point we have a conversation that goes something like:
Me: “Is your sister in control of you?”
Me: “Who’s in control of what you do and say?”
Me: “Okay, then who’s in trouble right now, you, or your sister?”
Him: “I’ll go apologize.”
Him: “Do I still get dessert?”
Anyway, my point is, we all do this stuff, all the time. Someone we don’t even know flips us off in traffic, and we allow it to affect our blood pressure. Or someone we do know says something thoughtless, and we stew about it for hours, losing a whole afternoon we can never have back. Or someone we’ve just met rejects us, and we feel stung and desperate for days or weeks. Something amazing happens and we’re elated. Something painful happens and we’re depressed. There’s no power in that. If we’re victims of circumstance, we may as well accept that life isn’t going to feel very good a lot of the time.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to let the guy behind you at that light get you riled up at all. You could allow that to be his problem to solve. You could even send him some compassion if you have it in you, because maybe it really is unusual behavior for him. If it isn’t, he probably needs even more compassion, because that can’t be a fun way to live.
A lot of people struggle with anger. Some let it out in unhealthy ways, so it explodes all over them, and everyone in the near vicinity. Other people repress it, and end up depressed, because it takes a lot of energy to sit on an active volcano. Some people numb out, feeling they’d better blur the edges and check out, or their rage will overwhelm them. Not facing this stuff is what does us in. Learning to sit with intense sensation is one of the major ways we retain our power, and our peace. Intense emotion creates intense sensation. So when you feel enraged, you might notice your breath is shallow, or your shoulders are up around your ears, or your face feels hot, or your heart is racing or your fists are clenched. If you can observe sensation, you’ll draw yourself into the present moment. Then you might be able to examine what’s come up for you, and why you’re feeling so triggered. That way you create space between an event, and the way you choose to respond to it, and that’s power. Don’t give yours away.
Sending you love,
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