Friday , May 20 2022

Your Internal Thoughts Change Your External World

By Denise Linn

Being a Sacred Observer Nurtures the Soul

As I sat at the United Airlines gate, I had to force my eyelids open just to keep from falling asleep. The annoyance of waiting, combined with the crankiness of being overly tired, was taking its toll. This would be my third flight in one day, and I still had an eight-hour trek ahead of me before I arrived back in the United States. I’d just finished an extended European speaking tour, and I was beyond ready to be home.

Boarding the plane, I dragged my carry-on luggage down the crowded aisle. I maneuvered past mothers with crying children and backpackers shoving huge bags into small overhead compartments. I kept checking row numbers as I searched for my seat-my own little oasis amidst the commotion. Even as I discovered that I had the middle seat, I sighed with delight upon arriving at my sanctuary-the place that would buffer my cramped body against the roar of the plane, the recycled air, and the canned music.

After my luggage was properly stowed and my coat and purse were tucked on the floor in front of me, I leaned back and settled in, ready to pass the hours as peacefully as possible. I casually fanned through the pages of the book I planned to read while the flight attendants covered the usual procedures. Glancing over at the man next to me, I noticed that he seemed stiff in his business suit. He stared blankly out the window and gave no sign of being aware of my presence. I imagined that he was attempting to avoid having to make conversation, but it seemed futile for him to go to such great lengths to remain aloof-I was feeling much too tired to take part in small talk anyway. I just closed my eyes and reminded myself that I’d be home before long.

Shortly thereafter, the man in the window seat pulled out a newspaper. As he opened it up and began to read, part of it fell into my lap. I’m normally a gracious woman; however, on airplanes, a sort of subpersonality emerges from my being, and I suddenly have well- defined personal “boundaries.” I act as though there’s an invisible wall between my seat and that of the person next to me, and woe be to the person who crosses that line! So I looked at the newspaper in my lap and gave the man my most disgruntled look. To my dismay, he was completely unfazed and simply continued reading. He made no effort to move the paper back into his own area.

With a number of hours left in the flight, I didn’t want the sanctity of my “territory” impinged, so I quietly moved my hand under the pages on my lap, and with one swift motion, flipped them back in his direction. I wanted to give him an obvious hint to stay out of my space without having to verbally confront him.

Once again, as if completely unaware of his rudeness, the man casually turned another page, and the newspaper tumbled back into my lap. I looked around in shock, valiantly trying to find some reason to explain why this was happening. I noticed that the man’s paper wasn’t written in English, so I attempted to hypothesize that perhaps his cultural norms didn’t include respecting the personal space of others- maybe he was ignorant about the unspoken barriers between seats on airplanes.

Resigning myself to the inevitable, I gingerly guided his paper back to his side each time he turned another page onto my lap. But after a while I internally started fuming, Okay, this is war! And began to shove the paper a little more forcefully toward his direction each time in encroached upon my space. This is not a cultural problem- he just doesn’t care! He’s so self-absorbed that he thinks he doesn’t need to pay attention to anyone else! I became more enraged with every passing minute of his oblivion.

I searched my brain for some justification, and then it all became crystal clear to me: I know why you’re such a jerk. It’s because I’m a woman. I bet you wouldn’t do this to another man-oh, no! It’s because I’m a woman that you think you can walk all over me!

The thoughts just kept circulating inside of me and gathering more emotional charge as the man next to me blithely perused his paper: Men can be so arrogant. They think that just because they’re physically superior to women, they’re superior in other ways, too. Well, buddy, I have news for you- this is one woman you can’t walk all over! All the signs seemed to point to his arrogance as I continued my internal dialogue of outrage with myself.

By this time, we were only an hour into the flight, and my silent fury had a long trip ahead. I was wondering how I could survive the long journey sitting next to a male- chauvinist pig, when the flight attendant announced over the loudspeaker: “Please feel free to get up and move around the cabin. For your safety, we ask that you keep your seat belt fastened while seated.”

“The jerk,” as I’d christened him in my mind, suddenly wadded up his paper, shoved it under his seat, and motioned that he’d like to get up. I had him! I impulsively decided not to get up to let him by- he could find his own way around me. While he struggled to get into the aisle, I thought, Let’s see how you like being squeezed!

As he hurried toward the lavatories, I congratulated myself for giving the man what I thought he deserved. But when I looked back at him retreating awkwardly, I gasped in shock! The side of his body that had been against the window was mangled and deformed; and what’s more, he was missing his arm! My jaw hung open as I tried to process this new piece of information.

Once it sunk in, I understood why the paper kept landing in my lap: He couldn’t hold it with only one hand. I thought of all the built-up anger I’d harbored against this man and all the conclusions about his character that I’d made…none of which were probably true. The only truth was that some of the pages of his paper had fallen into my lap-I’d created all of the other negative details about him in order to explain his actions. I’d imagined a story in my mind about this man and had given meanings to his actions that had no bases in truth, and in the process, I’d dishonored him and disempowered myself.

As I watched him walk down the aisle, I was immediately reminded of another situation in which I’d falsely judged someone. After anxiously waiting in a long line for the ladies’ room at an airport bathroom, I was eager for the next stall to become available. Finally, one in front of me opened, and a heavyset woman pushed past me, bombarding me with her strong perfume as she waddled by. I hurried into the stall hoping to escape her overpowering scent, only to find the toilet seat was covered with urine! As I scrubbed the rim with toilet paper, I ruminated about the woman’s poor manners and thoughtlessness. I decided that if I saw her again in the airport, I was going to confront her about her self-centered rudeness.

Still fuming against the “toilet villain,” I flushed and watched as a quantity of water shot up and onto the toilet seat. It hadn’t been urine on the seat at all- it was water! As the true villain was revealed to me, I realized that the only offense of which the woman was guilty was wearing too much perfume. The person I’d proclaimed to be the enemy in that story I’d created in my mind was actually an innocent woman.

What’s the Truth?

It’s not unusual to make up stories to explain the events in our lives. When something happens to us, we usually assign it meaning based upon our predetermined ideas about why things occur. We often try to understand what happens by applying what we already know about cause and effect-which can be useful, but can also lead to misunderstandings.

The experience with the one-armed man and the erupting toilet made a deep impact on me. I thought of all the other times in my life when I’s made up stories and judgments about other people and situations. How much more peaceful my life would have been if I’d just asked myself, What’s true in this situation? Instead of making negative assumptions about others and the situations I encounter, I’d save myself anguish if I could just become a “sacred observer” of what was true about the experience without adding any of my own details to it.

These days, when someone swerves in front of me in traffic, for instance, I remind myself that I don’t know the whole story, instead of automatically deciding that that person is an inconsiderate idiot or an egomaniac. I recount what I know for sure is true, which is that a car swerved in front of me. I admit that I don’t know (and may never know) why, and I resist the temptation to come up with a negative reason for taking it personally. I just notice what’s happening and remain open to the possibility that there’s a more harmonious explanation than the one I might create in my mind. By applying this thought process to everything that happens to me, I focus on just the facts and not on my assumptions.

At first it was difficult to be a sacred observer and not make presumptions, but it got easier each time I took a step back and reviewed what was true and what was a supposition. I found that I was better able to react calmly to people, and telling the truth about a situation ultimately nurtured my soul. Eventually, I gave up the notion that I could explain everything-I was finally able to just let things happen without judgment…nothing more, nothing less.

Of course it’s human nature to judge what’s in our environment; in fact, it’s a survival technique. As we come into contact with the world around us, we often have to go further than observation and make judgments for our personal safety-this then helps us decide who to trust and who not to trust, as well as who’s safe and who isn’t. Yet so often we carry this very human trait too far, and it becomes detrimental to others as well as to ourselves.

As I sat next to the one-armed man on the airplane, I spent an hour of my life in an unnecessary rage. My heartbeat and blood pressure rose, and my immune system was most likely diminished by the negative emotions that surged through my body…all of which because I chose to judge a situation rather than just be an observer. The truth was that a man’s newspaper fell into my seat-my truth was that I was upset about my personal space being compromised. Everything else about the man and the situation I fabricated unnecessarily.

Similarly, the truth in the ladies’ restroom was that the toilet seat was wet, and the origin of the wetness was unknown-my truth was that a wet toilet seat upset me. I could have just noticed the lid was wet, wiped it off, and forgotten about it; instead, I spent unnecessary time and powerful emotions blaming the woman ahead of me. So by simply recounting the facts, without assumptions, I now have a strategy for reserving judgment and avoiding unnecessary strife.

Steps to Empowerment

As a beginning step, spend a day observing the way you react to people and situations. Remember that the instant that you judge someone, you lose the ability to influence them, so notice your thoughts and recognize if you’re adding anything. Imagine that you could walk up to the person whose actions affect you and ask them directly if your assumptions are true. Is it possible that they could offer another explanation besides your own? The key is to ask yourself: What’s the truth? And what’s my truth? The answer to these two questions may not always be the same.

Excerpted from Chapter Two of The Soul Loves the Truth: Lessons Learned on My Path to Joy, by Denise Linn. Published by Hay House, it is available at retail and online bookstores.

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