Only when you accept your emotions can you let them go.
~ Joy Jacobs, Author, In A Pickle: Nourishing Recipes & Food for Thought
"Why don't we take this down to the register," he said with what seemed to be a combination of condescension and sarcasm. I'd stopped in for a pack of gum--first time in this convenience store--found what I wanted and placed it on the counter. The register was about 5 feet from where I stood, and I hadn't seen it.
The clerk (owner?) took my gum and walked to the register. I followed and handed him a twenty-dollar bill. The gum was $1.39.
"Do you have anything smaller?" He looked at me over the top of his glasses. He could clearly see when I opened my wallet that it contained a twenty and a five, and he seemed upset that I'd given him the twenty.
Me: "I do, but I’d like some change."
Him: "Well, I need change, too."
Okay, I'm officially triggered now by the customer service demon who lives inside me and wants to say: "Wait a minute--this is a business, right? Well, that's funny, because I thought I was the customer and that maybe you'd be happy I was in your store making a purchase. Did I miss something?"
I actually said: "Maybe I should just give the gum back and leave." And I started to push the gum toward him. My day suddenly soured, I'm angry now and trying to let him know in a fairly passive-aggressive way that it's his fault. If you've been in my workshops and remember the "Unbendable Arm," this is a good example of the "second arm"--the limp one.
Accept and Let Go
Luckily there's no one else in the store and I can take a moment to meta-communicate, assess my inner state, and consider if I really want to walk away in a huff.
Colleague, friend, and generally wise person Joy Jacobs who authored a fantastic little book called, In A Pickle: Nourishing Recipes & Food For Thought, talks about this moment of choice as a moment of coming back to ourselves. We shift attention from what is triggering us--from the problematic person or event--to our internal state. In other words, I don't act out the anger or repress it either. I take the time to notice my emotional state with interest and compassion. I'm angry--that's interesting. I accept the emotion for what it is and move on to a conscious and intentional response.
Stopping and paying attention to my emotional state helps me to make wiser choices about what I say and do next. I call it centering myself. When I'm centered, there's a me--a meta-communicator or gentle witness--observing all of what's happening.
Him: "I have a business and I need to keep change on hand." (Well, at least we're agreed on one thing--it's a business.) "Never mind. Here’s your change!"
Me: (Centering, breathing) Why don’t we start over – I’ll give you this change back and use a smaller bill.
Him: (Not taking the change but kinder now) "No, no, no--never mind."
Me: (Centering, breathing, looking at him) "Thank you. I hope you have a great rest of the day." And, I meant it. As I say in my workshops, you don't have to be 100% centered. 30-40-50% is better than nothing. I was about 70% now.
Him: "Thanks. I hope you do, too." And he meant it.
This all took place in about 3 minutes. Life happens. You make choices.
When you change, everything changes.
Shall I lose it and let this moment ruin the rest of my day, or shall I observe and let go of my emotional triggers and respond from center?
You are what you practice.
What are you practicing today?