One of the things that tends to occur when we get into conflict with someone else is that we get hurt.
When we get hurt our inclination is to try to protect ourselves.
We often do this by donning a suit of armour, a protective layer which has the purpose of stopping us receiving further hurt from the other person.
The consequence of putting on the armour is that the other person then sees someone in front of them in a suit of armour, perhaps carrying a sword. This can seem threatening to them. So what do they do, they put on their own suit of armour in case they might get hurt by the armoured, sword wielding person in front of them.
Our experience from inside the armour is that we feel vulnerable and that what we are doing is a good way to protect ourselves. To other people we can look aggressive and possibly dangerous.
We now have two people wearing armour, weighed down by it but also protected by it. Each of them are waiting for the other to stop being so threatening. Neither of them will take off their armour because it is of course protecting them.
We have a situation that can last for excessive amounts of time. My relationship with my dad looked like this and was uncomfortable for both of us for 30 years. 30 years of pain, distress and we and other people being negatively affected. The armour becomes normal after a while, we stop noticing that we are carrying it with us, it’s just who we are. In fact it can get bigger and heavier, we pick up more weapons and shields, get a thicker breast plate in case our heart gets hurt.
Clearly it is okay to protect ourselves – especially when an event triggers us into putting on our armour, the question is how long might we want to carry it around with us?
Some situations seem to demand that we keep it in place, situations of abuse or where we are at the lower end of a huge power imbalance. Situations where in our estimation it genuinely isn’t safe to remove it.
As a mediator I have individual meetings with people in dispute. Part of what I am trying to assess and that I talk about with them, is whether it is safe enough for them to take part in a mediation meeting with the other party where they might be able to take off some of their armour.
It’s always a risk to take off our armour – to show our vulnerability – but it is the only way of creating change.
If you can take the risk of removing a bit of your armour – it invites the same response in the other person. They may not be able to join you but they will feel the difference.
What it does for you is that it makes you lighter, more open and more ready for change.
We often need help to do this, to be in a safe enough environment with sufficient support but it changes our lives when we do it.
Which bit of your armour do you need to put down?
Signs of alignment
This blog is about helping us to notice what is going on when we are aligned – or more specifically, when we are not.
Most of us move in and out of alignment all of the time, some of us dwelling more at one end of the spectrum than the other – depending on our psychological make-up and background.
Alignment is the way I think about whether I am ok, whether I am taking the correct action in a situation, whether I am speaking truly. There are three key components to alignment, the thoughts I am having, the emotions I am I noticing and the signals that my body is giving me.
In any circumstance these three aspects will give us information that lets us know how we are doing and also gives us clues about what actions we should take (or not take).
My own experience of alignment is pretty simple;
· If aligned my brain is relatively quiet. Thoughts appear slowly and in response to external stimuli
· My emotional/feeling state is either neutral or positive
· My body feels relatively relaxed- as I scan my body, I feel ‘normal’ – whatever that is for me
Out of alignment
· Thoughts are buzzing around – repeating and come with a sense of distraction and discomfort
· My emotions are negative – often some fear/concern/worry is present
· My body will be doing something that causes discomfort. Typically for me the place I notice this first is in my belly which will feel tight
If any of these latter are running in you, its good news. It means that you have noticed that you are out of alignment and this then gives you a chance to do something about it.
I was talking recently with a friend about a difficult relationship from my past that still affects me. I said a bunch of words about the situation and paused, in the pause I noticed a tension in my gut, the realisation dawned that I had just ‘told my story’ and not what was actually going on now.
I said to my friend ‘I’ve just told a story and am feeling out of alignment, give me a moment’. I stayed with my discomfort and then some tears appeared and then some new words. As I spoke the new words my body moved back towards a feeling of ease and I learned something new about this old relationship that I had been hiding from myself up until that point.
When our actions take us out of alignment there are indicators that let us know that something is going on. These indicators are sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle. It can be really easy to ignore them especially if paying attention to them might have complicated consequences.
My challenge to you is to pay attention to these indicators, take a little time to figure out what they are telling you and then make a decision about what action to take.
How are you? No really, how are you?
How are you moving through your day?
Is life happening to you as a passive participant or are you getting to make choices?
At every waking moment there is a possibility that you can make a choice.
How are you choosing right now?
Before I take this further let me offer you a couple of definitions
A reaction is something that I seem to not have control over. Someone pushes me and I push back. Another driver causes me to brake sharply and I get angry with them. My partner accuses me of neglecting them and I get upset or angry.
A response takes the same situations as above but introduces the element of choice. The event occurs and I make a choice about what I do. I might be angry or upset or I might choose to ask why they feel I am neglecting them.
So back to your day…
Are you reacting to it or responding?
Your life might be busy, full of deadlines imposed by other people or by yourself. Loads of emails to answer and decisions to make.
Your life may be quiet – you may not have paid or unpaid work. There may be no push on you to get out of bed in the morning.
You may sleep badly.
You may have a life that is comfortably paced for you but your brain is always buzzing. ‘I should be doing more; I should be earning more; if only….’
If you are happy with your situation and your life is comfortably responsive, then stop reading here.
If you are not happy then there are three keys to shifting from a reaction to a response:
Move, Breathe and Think
I will explore all of these in more detail in later posts but for now here are a few quick options.
Leave your chair, go make a cup of tea, stretch, touch your toes (or your knees), walk your dog, go for a swim. Do something that causes a change of posture as it will help you get out of reaction.
Take a deep intentional breath, it will immediately shift you from reaction to response. Breathing is the quickest way of changing your state and helping to relax so give yourself a moment to pause and breathe on purpose, then do it again.
Examine your thinking. Are you telling yourself a ‘story’ about your situation? If your story includes the words ‘should’, ‘ought’ or ‘must’ then you are probably in a reactive place. Are you justifying yourself? What starts to happen if you notice ‘shoulds’ and justifictions?
It’s your life, is it having you or are you having it?
Early morning cycle, enjoying the cool air on my cheeks, the sun shining, a blue sky. A woman walking toward me, holding a dog on a lead. My guess is she was returning from a walk, on her way out of Ashton Court a large local estate that I was heading into.
She was walking in what an old teacher of mine called the ready to hug position. Arms out slightly from her sides, the beginning of a smile on her face, her fleece unzipped letting in the air. My eye contact with her was almost non-existent but it was there and she was present and full of life.
She was offering me a wake up and pay attention moment, which I shouldn’t have needed as I was still full of a murmuration.
A few days ago I watched the starling murmuration at dusk on the Somerset levels. The sun was setting; a fine crescent moon was visible in the sky. Perhaps 60 or 100 people had gathered, there was light chat and talk as we all waited, getting colder and wondering if we were going to be graced.
A small group of birds fly past and then another is seen in the distance, soon people are looking in all directions, seeing more and more birds. Glastonbury Tor is in the distance is surrounded by thousands and thousands of birds, only visible at this distance as a sort of thin black smoke, moving of its own volition.
The birds come closer to us, near to the reed beds and then there are a lot, near us, around us, creating their patterns in a way that looks entirely choreographed. People are laughing and exclaiming; I am full of wonder and delight.
We linger as the birds land, they seem to dive into the fields and disappear, then they rise up, move and land again. I suspect most of us are waiting for another spectacular show and in their apparent disappearance, the loss of the sun, a few stars and the moon, we have something spectacular.
Its finishing is as important as it happening at all.
Life starts and it finishes, it’s meant to do this.
I can feel myself being both at ease and profoundly disturbed by this thought.
In amongst the disturbance I know that I am feeling moments of grace – they are powerful food.