Why We Should Laugh and Cry at Our Pain
A few weekends ago, I was outside my using the weed whacker for the last time this season when my daughter pulled into the long gravel driveway and popped out of the car. Out of sheer consideration and common sense, she took a wide path around my work zone. And, somehow, her prudence triggered my mischief because I felt compelled to have fun with it.
I looked at her menacingly, and channeling my best chainsaw murderer, pointed the whirling weed whacker in her direction. With no beat in between, she slowed down to a stroll and countered my threat. With squinted eyes and pursed lips, her face dared me to even think about it. The chainsaw murderer in me cracked under the pressure of her insolence and left the rest of me standing there with my little garden tool. Daughter kept it pushing, and I went back to using my powers for good.
As I returned to my task, I had a mental dawning. I realized that there was a time when my daughter’s response would have been very different. As a little girl, she would have taken off running and squealing with an equal measure of glee and fake fear. Even knowing that she was in no real danger, the threat would have gotten her all riled up. But not so anymore. Because now we’re talking about the difference between a girl and a woman.
Think about it; it makes perfect sense. What animated us back in the day should not animate us in the same way now. Whether it’s a matter of getting down in dumps or flying off the handle, we don’t need to go through life being triggered by any and every little thing. As we mature, we should learn to squint, call bullshit, and have some chill in how we respond to the details and events in our lives. Usually, it’s a much better look.
Take, for example, the social threat of, say, being fired from a job, losing a relationship, or being hated. On the surface, composure in these instances is a good thing. But, let’s be clear, neuroscience research tells us that situations such as these trigger the same brain function that being chased by a bear wielding a weed whacker might. So, while some part of us is feeling like our lives are at stake, another part is claiming it’s no big deal.
With this kind of incongruence (read: faking the funk), our measured reactions come at the cost of suppressing our innermost selves. It can be a blind spot if we’re not watching out, and we could find ourselves living on the surface — skating by opportunities to find our truest nature through our experiences. In other words, we forfeit the benefit of life’s great organizing power to help us evolve.
“Conflict itself is, of course, a sign of relative health as you would know if you ever met really apathetic people, really hopeless people, people who have given up hoping, striving, and coping.” — Abraham Maslow
See, most of the conflict in our lives (and maybe all) has to do with evolution — change that’s happening or change that needs to happen — to which we are not responding with equanimity. Equanimity is defined as, “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”
“One of the best lessons you can learn in life is to master how to remain calm.” — Catherine Pulsifer
So, yes. We do need to have some chill as we are moving through and responding to life. It’s true. Yet, man cannot live by outer calmness alone. If we don’t anchor our composure in acceptance for the situation, plus awareness and curiosity for who we are in it, we’re simply suppressing emotions. Now, it’s no small feat to act as if nothing bothers you, scares you, or presses down upon your spirit, and it is a well-rewarded skill in circles of highly socialized people. However, anything can become a habit, and any impulse can become toxic. Meaning, we could easily find ourselves in a life that is reactionary rather than responsive, condensed instead of expanded, and veiled versus free. All because we haven’t learned to be present and true with our experiences.
Our Response is Like a Pulse
Now, somewhere between flipping off and flat-lining our way through life is our ability to respond. Our response-ability is a good indication that we are plugged into and connected to our inner life (at least to some degree). It shows that we can know ourselves at a level beneath the personality and beyond societal standards. And it’s a sign that we are willing to trust our inner stirrings to guide us through our internal and external experiences. Apathy is the opposite of response-ability. It tells us something too. It might mean that we are unreceptive to the details and events of life and that we don’t metabolize them in a unique and meaningful way. Borrowing from Maslow again, we might even think of this disconnection from our “inner signals” as neurosis; and as “a failure of personal growth.”
Acceptance is a Catalyst for Growth
Acceptance is another element that’s present in a masterful response. It’s the recognition that every life experience is inherently in service to our expansion. As a matter of fact, acceptance is expansion.
See, it’s one thing to snatch up life’s bittersweet details and bake them into something sweet that’s good for nibbling while triumphantly while dancing on the grave of disappointment. You know the whole “making lemonade when life hands your lemons” bit. We have learned to believe that by flipping misfortune on its head, we have defied any chance that life may get us down us with its outpouring of unfair fate.
But it’s a whole other thing to honor the presence of every aspect of life by knowing this truth: Everything we experience has come to serve us — be it fair or unfair. When this is the energetic force underlying our passage across the landscape of life, whether we’re on a mountain or in a valley, we are standing on solid ground. That is equanimity.
I am suggesting that we shoot for this kind of freedom because this is how we connect within.
And when we connect with our inner promptings enough to be still in the midst of chaos and move at our own pace in the face of fear, we may see that nothing we have ever done or experienced has been about the outcome. It is not about our successes or our failures. Nothing rests upon how much trash or treasure we can amass. Instead, our undertakings, accomplishments, and events are merely the mechanisms that may help us draw closer to our highest human potential in each moment. It’s about being in touch with the experience so that we expand and become more aware of ourselves because of it.
Abraham Maslow said, and I believe, that at the basis of our human experience is awareness. In other words, noticing the inner self and responding to what we find allows us to explore ourselves with courage. Being in touch with the inner self lets us stand our ground in the face of imaginary chainsaw murderers, honoring whatever is provoked within without willing it away. And, it allows us to accept the gift of experience in all its guts and glory and to be transformed by it.
But to be clear, none of us woke up like this. We are constantly growing into it. It’s a day-to-day proposition. So, when things hit the fan, keep calm and start feeling. It’s a matter of life and living.
And, on this day, my daughter’s 27th birthday, I am privileged to be on this journey of expansion even while I witness hers. Happy Birthday, KDJ!
Be free. Love, Peace.
Life Happens: Keep Calm and Respond From Within was originally published in Creative Enlightenment on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.