Okay, so here's an embarrassing little story. I offer it simply as an example of how quickly a state of mind can change, seemingly beyond our control.
Last week I shared the link to my blog with the Facebook groups people have put me in. I was feeling good- buoyant actually- looking forward to a day of writing. Sitting in my apartment savouring a cup of tea I paused to enjoy the ever-deepening sense of joy and contentment I'd been experiencing lately, even starting a new poem with the line: “This is what happiness looks like. . . .”
Gathering my belongings to head out to the library, I paused to check Facebook one last time, and noticed that someone had commented on one of the group pages- and what a comment it was. Someone I’d never heard of was asking why I was knowingly violating group rules with my post and telling me to delete it. Chastised and feeling unfairly accused (what group rules? I’d seen hundreds of links on this page!) I quickly deleted the post and sent a message to the author of the comment telling her I was unaware of any rules and had been put in the group without my permission, so had assumed my contributions were welcome. I also suggested that a private message without an accusatory tone would have been a better route to go if communication was the intention.
Well, you guessed it- things went downhill from there. The quick reply to my admittedly testy message accused me of thinking I was more important than other group members. My protestation that I could not keep up with the changing rules in the number of groups people put me in was unacceptable- apparently the commenter managed to keep track of group rules despite being followed online by ten million people (yes, ten million is the number she used.)
The content of this is really not important- what’s important (to me) was how reactive I became and how quickly my internal experience had gone from relaxed and joyful to defensive and angry. Maybe this person was. . . .unskilful in her communication. Maybe she was having a bad day. Or maybe she was being deliberately rude and insulting. So what! Why did I care?
I felt. . . hijacked- not by her, but by my own reactivity to her. Even as I made what turned out to be a futile attempt to change the tone of the exchange to one of connection, a corner of my consciousness whispered a warning, urged me to, walk away, ignore her response, make no reply, return to my own priorities for the day.
Which is what I finally did, but not before my mood had gone from glee to grim. The line I had written in my journal ten minutes before mocked me. This is what happiness looks like? Ha! At that point a better starting line would have been: “This is what reactivity looks like!” I tried to sit with the feelings in my body. The urge to respond, to defend. . . . the impulse to be right, to make the other feel and acknowledge just how unfair she was being.. . . it was all there- churning in my gut, making my face hot and my hands itch for the keyboard. I grabbed my knapsack and headed for the library.
Walking helped. The sun helped. My feet on the grass helped. I started to breathe more deeply, to mourn the loss of my earlier equanimity, to ponder how easily I had been distracted and engaged in a meaningless exchange.
I could tell you what I know about my own history of being shamed and how the comment hooked into that wounding, and to some degree that kind of self-knowledge can and does sometimes help me/us not get hooked. And sometimes,(to use Pema Chodron's term) we “bite the hook” anyway. I'd been feeling expansive, open, unguarded- so the chastisement (intended or not) landed in a tender spot, hit me in a vulnerable moment.
Of course, this IS what happiness in all its guises, including equanimity, is like: changing, fluid, impermanent, ebbing and flowing, coming and going like all other states of body/mind/heart.
Oh, I'm not saying we can't learn to “bite the hook” less rigorously and less often. Surely the more we learn to recognize and choose not to act on our own inner reactivity the more we will contribute to inner and outer peace. Self-knowledge (of which inner eyelets that fit particular hooks may have been installed in early life) helps, and gentle curiosity helps foster self-knowledge (just why did that hook me today?)
Mostly, it’s about accepting that life is a process, about not giving up on learning but letting go of the hope that some revelation will turn us into a consistently enlightened, non-reactive human being “once and for all.” Not biting the hook of reactivity is a daily practise. And some days really are better than others.
~Oriah (c) 2012