Can You Accept What I am Feeling?
I love “A-ha” moments. Every time I have one it feels like my world becomes a little brighter and my body feels a little lighter. These moments often leave me with a little skip in my step and a giggle on my lips. My recent “a-ha” moment went something like this…
I was working with my classmates on our final assignment. We were to take all that we learned about rituals and apply it to create our own graduation ritual. Our class began meeting about this project in February and in June, we did our first “dress rehearsal”. During the ritual we all had our own personal parts we were performing. I had decided I wanted to share a song that I had recently heard at a church I had visited. It was a hymn about how we often feel called to do things that we can’t ignore, a feeling like a Higher power is pushing us to do something we wouldn’t otherwise do. When I played the song during our practise, one of my classmates looked distressed. She was familiar with the hymn and it brought back memories. She shared with me that when I play the song during the ritual, she will just step out at that time. She never suggested I not share it, but I instantly felt bad that she appeared to be very uncomfortable with my song choice. I first responded by sharing that I too had a negative response to songs that bring back uncomfortable memories. I said, “I know how you feel, I have songs that really trigger me too.” My classmate responded with “How could you know what I am feeling?” That response caught me off guard and I stumbled with more explanation that was likely making things worse.
As I drove home that night, my mind searched for ways to fix this apparent problem. I told myself that the song was not that important to me anyway and that my classmate’s feelings were more important than the song. When I got home I emailed her and assured her I would pick another song. I expected her to respond with gratitude and thanks for my obvious sacrifice. Instead, she said it would be fine if I used the song if it was meaningful for me. Then she asked “What can I do to help you accept what I am feeling? What can I do for you to be okay with my response to your song?” I was shocked and instantly felt misunderstood and unappreciated.
Something I know to be true is if something is upsetting me, I can be a victim to it, or I can use it as an opportunity for growth. So, I decided rather than being upset with my classmate and find ways to defend my righteousness in all of this, I just got quiet. I asked the famous question from A Course In Miracles: Do I need to be right about this or do I need to be happy? I took some deep breaths, began visualizing myself wiping off the chalkboard in my mind (maybe that is a teacher thing) and asked to see this clearly. I knew if I was suffering, I needed correction and that is exactly what I received. I always know when I receive it because I instantly hear myself say “Oh now I see!” and feel instant peace. Within about 30 minutes of my classmate’s email, I was emailing her back with my “a-ha” moment.
So what did I learn? What was my “a-ha” moment? I learned that we can not take responsibility for other people’s responses to things or to us. We can notice and be empathetic and compassionate but we don’t need to change ourselves for others. Perhaps being present and hearing another's concerns may be all that they want and need. When we try to change in order to make them feel better, we may think we are doing it to make THEM feel better, but could we also be doing it so we can feel better about ourselves? In other words “I will change so you will feel better and you feeling better will make me feel better about myself. I need you to be happy so I can be happy.” How many times do we inflict this dance onto people in our lives? What would happen if, from a place of empathy and compassion, we allowed others to just feel what they are feeling without having to fix them or change us?
I was so grateful for my classmate’s bravery to share her question. I have been hearing that question over and over in my head as I sit with my upset child, a troubled friend or distressed family member. Can I be okay with them experiencing what they are experiencing or perceiving? Can I just be a listening presence? Can I let go of the need that their response to me or an event needs to be a positive one in order for me to feel good about myself? If we can take this idea of not taking another person’s responses personally into our relationships, how might they change?…hmmm