Navigating Through Emotional Upheaval: From Prejudice to Peace | Mindfulness Rewrites

Friday, June 8, 2018

Navigating Through Emotional Upheaval: From Prejudice to Peace

þ  Do you cling to grievances?
þ  Do you harbor abusive, negative, or otherwise toxic thoughts against your partner—or anyone else?
þ  Do you marinate in perceived slights? Do you feel yourself helplessly inclined to wallow in hurt feelings even when a part of you suspects that your perceptions may not indeed be well-rounded or correct?

In her seminal novel Pride and Prejudice, the beloved 19th century English novelist Jane Austin explores the damage that can result from too much egoism or—as the book title itself insinuates—prejudicial thinking.
The protagonist of the novel, Elizabeth Bennett, is a young spunky woman who, being the second of five daughters in a relatively poor but upstanding British family, has the “nerve” to desire to marry for love. Acclaimed throughout the novel for her good-natured impertinence, wit, and social intuition, Elizabeth nonetheless falls prey to her prejudices concerning Mr. Darcy, a wealthy gentleman who slights her at a ball when he refuses to dance with her. She later overhears him saying some rather derogatory comments about her, further adding insult to injury. Her pride is offended by his ego and snobbery, and she promptly slams the door to a future relationship.
“I have faults enough,” Darcy vouches for himself later, within Elizabeth’s presence, “but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for it. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself […] my temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.”[1]
In time—spoiler alert!—Mr. Darcy actually finds himself attracted to Elizabeth and tries to make amends. He proposes marriage to her, only to be confronted by her with examples of his pride and snobbery. To his credit, Mr. Darcy is able to take stock of his effect on others and indeed does make amends. Ultimately, Elizabeth is forced to confront her own closed mind, prejudices, and her unwillingness to forgive him. Only when they both examine their own personal foibles and overcome them can they clearly acknowledge and appreciate one another, and can then envision a future together. Mr. Darcy proposes again; this time Elizabeth accepts.

“‘Your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.’
‘And yours,’ he replied with a smile, ‘is willfully to misunderstand them.’”
-Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice examines the everyday biases and prejudices that are both innate to the human condition and further emphasized by societal and cultural conditioning. Jane Austen breathes to life a colorful cast of characters who grow through the examination of their own faults and fall-outs, revealing how true character development can only happen through self-analysis, forgiveness, and love. As Darcy and Elizabeth discovered, we all have the choice to break through old stereotypes and biases, and to subsequently liberate ourselves and embrace those around us. We have the power to align ourselves every day with our personal chosen values.
The NOW strategy, as applied here, can enable us to do this…
²  Notice. It’s important to notice and acknowledge our personal strengths and weaknesses. “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” applies in every scenario—especially regarding relationships. Darcy and Elizabeth would have never been able to cultivate or maintain their love without self-examination.
²  Opportunities. Although they certainly did not understand this initially, the moment when their paths crossed was a huge crossroads for both Darcy and Elizabeth. They had the opportunity to grow upon meeting each other. In relationships, as in any circumstance of our lives, we always have the choice to become either better or bitter.
²  Within. Darcy and Elizabeth had to wrestle with their own demons before approaching each other with clearer minds and open hearts. There’s always room for improvement, they say, and self-improvement is the biggest room in the house. Clearing out toxic energy makes way for positive emotions and healthy attitudes.  

A 2004 University of North Carolina study of “relatively happy, nondistressed couples” showed that couples who practiced mindfulness saw notable improvements to their degree of “relationship happiness”. In addition, they experienced improved and healthier levels of “relationship stress, stress coping efficacy, and overall stress”. This is because mindfulness is a conscious practice that fosters compassion for one’s self and for others.
We’re human; conflicts are an inevitable part of life’s journey. In a relationship where two individual characters must compromise and collaborate together in constant close proximity, it’s natural that we won’t always see eye to eye with one another. Imagine such an instance, when your stress or negative emotions are triggered by something your partner says and does (and by your ensuing reaction). 
Anger is an immediate response and bitterness is the path; These emotions call forth reactions instead of principled responses. So many regrettable thoughts and actions happen in such moments. I once did a talk in a bookstore and noted that the phrase “Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us” was inaccurate—thoughtless and cruel words can cause lasting damage, leaving emotional scars that fester long after broken bones have been healed. There was a songwriter in the audience named Sarah Malcom; she subsequently wrote a song entitled: “Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Break My Soul.”
Instead of holding on to this negativity, you can consciously choose to behave differently. Let’s visualize it together. Picture yourself in that heated moment when you are flooded with anger, resentment, and judgement. What if you were able to feel and acknowledge those emotions without reacting destructively toward yourself or your partner?
 Remember that you don’t need to be physically or even verbally abusive to be violent. Even thoughts can be destructive, especially because they are inadvertently reflected in our attitudes and behaviors. For instance, you will become withdrawn and critical during an argument when you’re thinking toxic thoughts. The other person’s negativity feeds off yours, and vice versa, and before you know it you’ve probably both said or done regrettable things.
Practice observing your brewing emotions and thoughts without getting caught up in them. And instead, why not strike when the iron is cold? Let yourself cool down and cool off, and share your feelings and thoughts when you are ready and are capable of clarity and compassion.
You won’t regret it.

“Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce the aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.” –Ekhart Tolle

Imagine that you are on a sailboat in the ocean, and navigating these waves is the course of life. No matter how well you adjust the sails or gun the engine, you’ll inevitably be blown off course sometimes. The most capable fishermen and sailors understand that sometimes the best thing you can do—or the only thing you can do—is to simply ride out the storm. Let the feelings blow through you and then pass. Ride out your mental storm. It’s just a cascade of chemicals, you know, based on fear. These are just waves that wash over you. Haven’t you noticed that it’s much easier to stay afloat when you relax your body rather than when you tense up and panic in the water?
Embrace the storms, then, on your journey. Don’t resist them, but don’t let yourself drown within their drama either. Keep yourself grounded with these mantras:
Storms always pass. There is no need to panic or fear.
Ride out the storm. Feelings blow through me… feelings blow out of me…
Later I will analyze the storm. Now I need only observe it. Now I will hang on and pull through.
Later, you will have the clarity of mind to sit down and better analyze the storm, and to understand what caused it. You can also discover the lessons you learned by observing the storm: what feelings and resistance did you notice? What helped you pull through? How could you make this transition easier in the future?
Use the storm as an opportunity to gain new skills to temper your emotional upheavals. Above all, remember that storms are a part of life, but you have the power to navigate your way through them. You will always return to calm clear skies.

 “Obstacles do not block the path; they are the path.” –Anonymous

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