In our default way of being something occurs in the world and instantly we find ourselves in the domain of explanation; we are almost never present to the phenomenon itself: that which occurred. Does this matter? Let’s explore through an example.
Yesterday evening, wife was talking to sons and one in particular. She floated the idea of him putting his brother on his insurance policy, driving his new (to be) car. Instantly, I intervened, dominated the conversation, and made my wife wrong about bringing up the subject. She was not at all happy. How did I respond to the situation? Not well: I did not listen to her objections instead I made her wrong for objecting to my insistence on having the conversation go my way. Where was I whilst this ‘conversation’ was occurring?
I was in the land of ‘story’: explanation, reasoning and excuse. What kind of ‘story’? This one: “The boys don’t get along at the best times. What is my wife thinking? Has she forgotten the animosity between the boys? Is she deliberately stirring up conflict? Surely she can’t be that stupid! I have to put an end to this right here, before this plan gets any wind behind it. It is the right thing to do.”
What was the ‘story’ that I found myself entangled in when my wife objected to my attempted domination of the conversation? This one: “Is she stupid? Doesn’t she get that I am doing what I am doing for the benefit of all? That my way is the best way: it will avoid conflict further down the road. If this thing gets ‘wind in the sails’ we (wife and I) will find ourselves involved in sorting things out. And whatever we do we will end up disappointing one of the boys!. No, I have to stick to my guns and stop this stupid idea!”
As you can imagine the situation did not turn out well. My wife and I ended up going to sleep upset with one another. What showed up when I slept on the matter? In sleeping on the matter, I focussed on the phenomenon itself: that which occurred and not my interpretation-explanation (‘story’) of that which occurred. And this is what showed up for me:
When my wife brought up the idea of one son putting the other son on his car insurance for his new car, I became alarmed. My body sat upright as if an alarm bell had gone off. What was the cause of this alarm? I saw in my minds eye, tension-conflict-fighting between the boys over who did what. And I saw myself being sucked into the situation – at the very minimum listening to, seeing, experiencing this conflict. I hate conflict!
How might the evening have turned out if I had been present to the phenomena – that which was occurring for me – as it was occurring?
1. I would have realised one of my ‘hot’ buttons had just been pressed. That I was alarmed, I was fearful, I saw myself being sucked into a pit that would be hard to climb out of.
2. I would have said to wife: “Listening to your suggestion, I find myself fearful. I am afraid that this idea will not turn out well. The boys will argue-fight. You and I will be blamed for coming up with his idea – even forcing this idea on to our eldest son. And whilst you can tolerate conflict between the boys and see it as a learning opportunity for them, I find in unbearable. Finding it unbearable I will find myself sucked into sorting it out. And that will be a thankless task. So I finding myself vulnerable, alarmed, fearful about what you are suggesting to our eldest son. What can you do to help me out here?”
3. Wife, I, and the boys would have been given an opening to a honest conversation. It is even possible that the boys would have found an opening to share how the situation showed up for them and how they were feeling about my wife’s suggestion.
4. Wife and I might have gone to sleep within the context of mutual understanding and affection. We might even have gone to sleep understanding each other better – at a more intimate-deeper level.
So next time, you find yourself enmeshed in story feeling what you are feeling, telling yourself what you are telling yourself, put aside the ‘story that you are spinning and which is spinning you’ and get present to the phenomena. Being with the phenomena, without the ‘story’, may just give you the opening that you need to take an alternative (more effective) course of action.
What did I do? Having gotten present to the phenomena during the night, I apologised to my wife for my conduct the previous evening, and shared the phenomena (that which I had experienced). I am confident that this allowed her to forgive me, and put the previous evening behind us.