One of the great teachings of all time goes something like this: ‘Events may happen that you cannot change, but you can change how you react to them,’ or, ‘You can’t change your past, but you can change how you feel about it.’
I was young the first time I heard that I had the power to change how I view circumstances, or that I could change how I felt about my earlier years. The idea that emotion-explosions weren’t necessary was empowering. In fact, I had to agree that they usually escalated the trouble. And no more victimization. I had the power to change the way I felt about my past? That was awesome!
Both ideals proved difficult to put into practice, but changing how I reacted to given situations was easier. And knowing that it was up to me to manage how I felt was enough to set me on the path toward emotional balance.
Just like everything else—right or left?, up or down?, in or out?—there are higher forms of emotion: We are communicative, passionate, committed; and there are lower forms of emotion: We are unmanageable, hostile, ruthless. I never felt out-of-control with the good emotions; they carried me forward in creative endeavors. It was the lower emotions that did me in. I could be upset for days over arguments or disappointments, and attempts to justify my feelings usually served only to aggravate the situations.
This is where I had to learn to back up and look at the matter from the other person’s point of view, or at least as an observer (as if I were watching a movie, as a mentor suggested). Do I have to ‘go out-of-control?’ Well, no, not really. I could calm down and try to understand the cause of what was happening.
This new perspective changed my life. Communication was much more effective than sobbing, stewing and dreaming up ways to get even. I did not always agree with the other person, but at least I better understood the why and how of what had happened, and later, that we humans have an awful lot in common.
How did I begin the process of healing the past? It wasn’t easy. I first recognized that painful memories can add heavy emotion-chains to our shoulders. We may not be stooped over at 20, but if we do not remove them, we will be stooped over by their weight later in life. I began to see that those who come before us likely carry heavy emotion-chains of their own, and that they didn’t know how to let them go, or they would have. They did not know that hauling those chains around attracted more darkness to them and that the wearing-down of our minds and hearts can destroy our lives. If we do not do something to release the past, we cannot see that we deserve goodness, especially that we deserve to be happy.
Then came the matter of forgiveness. I know; I have said the words myself, “I will never forgive you! Never!” But as an adult, I saw the patterns of negativity and how easy it is to react ‘in-kind.’ If everyone is reacting darkly, no one can see there are other ways to be a human. I think that is why Jesus said, “If a man strikes you, turn the other cheek,” not to stand there and get beat up, but to reduce the hastening of hostilities. I also sensed what it would feel like to drop the chains of pain I carried around my neck. I wanted this; I needed it. I needed to grow and change, to live and be who I am beyond the darkness, in the light.
We all need to be who we are in the light. The light is where we fit.