Is our response-ability the key to our happiness?
During a run with my friend this morning, I had a big ‘Aha’ moment. A rather sweet old man on a bike stopped us to ask us if we were on the ‘Castle Route’ (one of many rambler routes we apparently live next to). Being creatures of habit and only having enough time to run a route that suits our needs, we didn’t know where that was. He continued to quiz us about ‘said route’ and then asked us where we were headed. When we told him, his reply was that he thought you couldn’t go down where we were headed. It then became a ‘to and fro’ of us saying you can because we did, and him saying, he thought you couldn’t…. us saying nope – you definitely can, we do it every day, him saying that’s funny because he thought you couldn’t…
I won’t bore you with how many times this bounced back and forth, but it really highlighted how often we get tripped up by a thought and then go into a ‘thinking loop’ about that thought – rather than just dealing with the reality of the new information.
Anyway that’s not the insight that caused my ‘Aha thought’, although it is a pretty good one. The insight that really did it for me is when about half way through that rather pointless dialogue with the rather sweet old man, I became aware that we had been timing ourselves for the run (a slightly difficult to break habit of mine born from the old days of being a bit competitive with myself) and this discussion was going to cause us to ‘come in’ late. Until that point, I had been fairly certain we were headed towards beating our best time, even though we had not been pushing ourselves. I was relaxed about the possibility until I realised this conversation was threatening to take it all away.
At that moment I felt frustration pulse through me. I’m guessing I produced a rather screwed up tight looking face; bounced about on the spot and hurriedly mumbled, ‘sorry we’ve got to go, we are on a timer’. It saddens me to remember the look on the man’s face as he dejectedly said ‘oh alright, goodbye then’.
As I continued on our run, playing through my mind what had just happened, pointlessly and irritably asking my friend why people continue to ask the same questions and not listen to the answer, I suddenly realised that my irritation was not with the old man, but was in fact with myself. It dawned on me at that moment, I was more irritated with myself for not reacting differently. Especially as I had been feeling all expansive and filled with gratitude at life until then. I queried myself – what had stopped me from expressing sweetly, kindly and with good humour that we didn’t know the answer? To have said ‘so sorry, must dash as we are trying to beat our best time for the run’. Wouldn’t that have been a far more lovely way of handling it?
As I took that medicine in, I felt around in my heart and mind a bit further and pulled up some other ’irritation and frustration’ memories. I found that it was the same each time. I got irritated when people did something that I believed caused me to behave in a less that loving way. Rather than looking at why I reacted that way, I was more focussed on ‘what they did to cause my response’!!
It is not usually other people that hurt me – it’s how I respond to them that hurts me most. At certain moments, under stress for example, I forget to dig into my big bag of resources, instead pulling out the irritation and blame card. At that moment, I don’t ask for what I need, I don’t give myself the ‘right’ to have or to ask for what I want and yet I get annoyed that they appear to have also not thought about my feelings and what I want.
I’m not convinced that this inspired Aha moment is going to stick for good yet – I am human after all, however it has sown a big seed in my gorgeously fertile mind.
Imagine if every moment was just an opportunity to feel and to be loving generous and kind as a response. Imagine if the only thing that really caused the pain was just how we chose to react, not what they ‘did’ to us. Each and every time we respond, rather than react, we get to choose how we feel. We can feel our pain at reacting and not using our full kit of resources, or we can respond with loving kindness. Perhaps it’s our ability to respond (our response-ability), which is the key to our happiness.
Author – Penny Pettman