Eckhart Tolle says “You are the lake. What happens in the outside world causes the ripples and waves.”
If someone throws a stone into the lake it will disturb the water. Ripples, splashes and waves will form. If I wait long enough the ripples will go away and the calm will eventually return.
When I want things to change in my life and I am at a loss for what to do, I often throw stones. It's an annoying habit I have observed within myself. Throughout much of my life I have avoided conflict but in other ways I think I am addicted to the puzzle of it. I have habitually responded to what I often hear as criticism, within my relationships, particularly my romantic partner relationships, with defensiveness and anger. Sometimes, rightly so. But as of late…as of being tired of labeling myself as the angry one in the relationship...as of being tired of my same old communication patterns...as of being tired of repeating the same old mistakes in a new relationship...and as of listening to lots of Buddhist thought on the matter…I have been attempting to form a different approach. The question is, “what would happen if I didn’t react to someone’s opinion at all.” What if I listened, responded with “I hear you and I respect your opinion and I disagree”… if that happens to be the case and, most importantly, WITHOUT any further efforts put into explaining or reiterating my point of view. What if I didn’t take the bait.
Eckhart Tolle also says that there are two kinds of ego that we all have. The positive and the negative. The good version of ourselves and the bad version of ourselves. Both are ego. But the negative ego is the stronger one. The bad version of ourselves holds on harder. Mine sure as hell does. Blaming and guilt are both internal dialogues that we have with ourselves and others that strengthen the negative ego. Blaiming and guilt are nothing but bait. For the other person and for my own ego. Within an argument there is so often a subconscious obsession with winning. The irony is that this focus on winning actually reduces our own personal power. The more we allow our emotions to control our thinking the more out of control we become. Remaining neutral is a way to calm the water. No reaction. If I don’t react, then there can be no perpetuation of the same old actions. Something different will happen. I’m not referring to indifference, certainly not contempt or silent treatment. The ego is sly. Different might mean unpredictable and very subtle, anti-climactic even, but still different.
Sigh. However, I find that not reacting is actually an extremely difficult thing to do. I hope it gets easier with practice. I squirm like a cat in a leash every time. For a good long while. And sometimes it wins. I take off the leash and lash out. I am so conditioned to have a response but it really is an unnecessary reaction. It’s ok to just listen, let what is said settle in and hear it very well.
Then maybe a response will come or maybe not. There is power in calm and silence. It is a way to honor myself and my experience. I don’t owe anyone an immediate answer. I am allowed to think about something and feel something as long as I need to. I am allowed to make space for myself. If I am really done jumping for others, then I can take that all the way down to the details.
This is the beginning of acceptance when in conflict with anyone. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. It doesn’t mean I agree with the other existing opinions in the situation. It doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings and emotions. It doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t valid. It doesn’t mean I am allowing someone to push me around or bully me or use me. It doesn’t require defending my position or validating the other's. Acceptance is neutral. The only thing it requires is listening. That’s it. To the other person but also to myself and my own reaction. Instead of being swallowed by my reaction, I can see it, feel it and let it be there, instead of panicking to do something about it.
The only thing to do, when I become angry and irritated, when a stone is thrown into the water, is pause and listen. To the other person, to the silence, to my breathing, to my own maniacal thoughts, whatever. Even if it’s only for 30 seconds, which is sometimes all I am capable of. It stops the perpetuation of war, even if only for a moment.