Resilience, springing back into shape after being stretched or bent, requires cultivation just like the perennials in my garden. A critical first step, like noticing it’s time to water the flowers before they dry out or to pull weeds before they take over the entire garden, involves identifying the need for self-renewal prior to being over-stretched.
Just like in the garden, where daily watering can be essential during times of intense summer heat, cultivating resilience through the daily practice of keeping things in perspective, is a second practice that fosters flexibility and a certain adaptive toughness.
Sounds easy, yes? Only if you don’t get hooked . . . . the equivalent of complaining about he weeds without reaching down to pull them out, forgetting the vision of a more beautiful, bountiful garden.
A couple of weeks ago my husband found out about a local 2-day Blues & Heritage fest over the Labor Day weekend with a terrific musical line up: Buddy Guy, Mavis Staples, Laith Al-Saaid of The Voice fame, Coco Montoya. We were thrilled, purchased tickets, and enjoyed the first night singing “Respect Yourself’ with Mavis Staples, swaying in sync with the crowd.
The second day the weather proved perfect, and our early enough arrival found us, again, in choice lawn seats, sipping tasty lemonade. Then came my opportunity to practice perspective keeping.
We were sitting on the lawn, midway back on the green, where we’d enjoyed the afternoon listening to pretty fabulous music. Just ahead was space for a couple of lawn chairs to squeeze in near the fence. Right before the evening show two women arrived, chairs in one hand, cigarettes in the other, only to finagle not two but four chairs in that small space! Of course, they were soon joined by others . . . popping open beers, talking loudly over the music and dancing—that is if public pole dancing constitutes dancing in any way. Clearly, they were enjoying the concert.
Agitation, however, had come my way about 20 minutes into the new set, capturing my attentions and shifting my mood. I was not enjoying the concert at this point.
“Who are these people–thinking they can hone in on our neighborhood?” as I moved their multiple chairs literally off our feet.
“Nobody’s smoking out here—they should know better!” as I fanned away the drifting smoke
“How rude is that! Can you believe it?! Go get a room!” as the couple next to us proceeded to grope one another to the sweet sound of the blues.
You get the idea.
As the evening wore on, agitation now settling in, I knew I needed to shift perspective gears if I had any hope of enjoying the remainder of the concert.
So I got up. I took a walk. In shifting my body to help me shift my mind, I realized a few things.
First, observing signs of our own internal distress can reveal a belief or value that’s been crossed, challenged, or threatened. I was distressed by the intrusions into my concert experience!
Secondly, in walking around I became more aware of my inner judgments, driven by my conflicting emotional reactions. I had to pause long enough to step back and listen so I could sort through these judgments with an eye to the bigger picture. Otherwise I’d simply be driven by them and . . . . annoyed.
“It’s a free country, they can sit wherever they like. . . . .can’t I too?”
“This is a public concert, Chris (I always use my first name when trying to reason through these kinds of emotional reactions, sounds silly, I know), get over it! . . . but I don’t want to get over it!
“They’re just having a good time. . . at the expense of the rest of us trying to enjoy the concert?!”
Next came the possibilities. I wondered if I should say something, and if so, what? I actually rehearsed what I thought was an appropriate response, “You’re enjoying the concert, right? Great, we’d love to as well” which might’ve really worked except that they were drunk. Very drunk. Other possibilities included moving to a new seat, leaving all together, choosing to do nothing in response.
I’d become hooked on what I think of as correct concert etiquette, on what constitutes decent public behavior. In short, I lost my perspective of a bigger picture. In this case the bigger picture involved the facts that it was indeed a public concert, that those folks had paid for the privilege of listening too, and that potential ‘rules’ I was holding were, in point of fact, simply my rules.
I realized, too, that the annoyances had, in fact, helped me to clarify my own standards: to treat others as I would like to be treated, to extend respect and dignity to all, especially in public places, and take appropriate action to defuse tense situations.
I could either hold these standards rigidly, creating more stress, or hold them lightly and tune in to what was working (beautiful day, great music) in an otherwise tense situation. I chose to shift my perspective.
So I talked to myself some more, this time with a more helpful tone, “Breathe. Re-focus your attention, tune into the music.”
Action Steps: To increase your own perspective taking follow these steps. It won’t be easy, though you’ll likely feel more empowered to take right action while you increase your resilience.
- Notice your own agitation, irritation or anger and note your physical reactions. Get curious. Ask yourself what personal value or belief was just provoked.
- Step back (maybe literally) and look at the bigger picture of the moment. Reflect on what’s important and evaluate your current judgments from here.
- What’s possible from here?
- Choose your perspective on purpose and act accordingly.