March 2018: Storms
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
~ Haruki Murakami
It’s been a stormy couple of weeks…with a lot to process. The purpose of processing? To learn the lessons presented by the various challenges. I’ve discovered that I function on auto-pilot much of the time; especially when it comes to interacting with people. And then my brain analyzes those interactions on a continual playback loop, like a mental video on repeat. Takes a bit of effort to stop that playbook loop at times. Particularly if it’s a confusing situation or involves a power imbalance. This time I had to slow the loop right down rather than force an abrupt stop.
I don’t respond well when intimidated—even less so when it is intentional intimidation—such as when someone is condescending and supercilious. We all know those scenarios when someone tries to put us in our place or make us feel at a disadvantage. My latest experience with a “power broker” prompted much analysis. No matter what I tried to stop the obsessive thinking, my loop kept playing until I figured out the lesson: I need to honour my gut instinct and intuition. What I “sense” is as important as what I taste, see, smell, touch, and hear. Like most sensitive people and empaths, I grew up with the messages that I was reading into things, being over-sensitive/-reactive, needing to give the benefit of the doubt. In sum, to second guess and not trust mySelf; which leads to putting myself in harm’s way, be taken advantage of, take one on the chin.
I have learned to minimize and doubt what I sense or intuit without even thinking about it. I may get defensive without understanding why; and thus react reflexively because I haven’t process the incoming “sensed” data. Conversations can become confusing and veer off in unexpected directions. Leaving me distressed and uncomfortable. To add to the misery, even that sensation gets minimized automatically. And then the constant playback loop starts because I screwed up somehow and need to figure it out to protect myself from potential future interaction failures.
So. While I am confused and obsessing, I have to defy my auto-pilot—fumbling for the override switch while in crisis mode. It is one thing to be mindful and present when in a calm state (such as part of daily routine), or in slightly elevated states (like waiting in line or for an appointment); but it is quite another thing to be mindful when under duress—as the brain and body has a finely-tuned coping response that is engaged subconsciously. I am still learning how to override the “stress auto-pilot.” Basically, it is a version of “freeze mode”—or playing dead. I don’t tend to fight or flee when stressed. I shut down. I turn inward. I assume I am doing (or being) something wrong.
Hence, I need to keep retraining my brain. Prompting my amygdala to rely on a fourth option instead of fight, flight, or freeze. I have to find that override switch before I encounter perceived threats. So that when my amygdala fires up and engages the engine light of my brain, I am ready to read the incoming data. Data that is nearly imperceptible: the tone of voice, choice of words, eye movement, gestures, energy shifts, a “sense.” If I feel uncomfortable, I need to pay attention. Acknowledge the sensation. Take it seriously, for what it is. If I sense something is off, it is off. Then I can choose what to do next. I don’t have to wait for the conversation to end or attempt to anticipate the next move. I can acknowledge this isn’t working for me and ask myself what to do/say next without being rude, aggressive, or defensive. Sometimes it is as simple as making a mental adjustment without any obvious outward change.
I have such a long way to go in reclaiming my power. I am so conditioned to giving up my power for the greater good, to keep the peace, that I fail to own it before routinely relinquishing it. I need to own who I am and my complete sensory intake. Once I can be mindful of every experience, I can move on to speaking up about what I perceive. Tactfully, of course. That will take much more practice and likely an increase of obsessive playback loops analyzing my every thought and action. But I will get there.
I have many more storms to brave yet. For that’s what life really is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to journey through storms. We certainly can’t avoid them—as much as we waste energy trying to do just that. Life is all about the storms with the odd break in the weather. And my storm detection equipment needs tweaking—not to avoid them, but to prepare more effectively.
I will keep meeting challenges, learning the lessons, and practicing the skills. In the words of Louisa May Alcott,
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”