“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.” –Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
My theme for 2016 is reclamation. Earlier this year I wrote about reclaiming our bodies—about making peace and accepting all of ourselves. This is one piece of the reclamation puzzle. Another big piece is to take responsibility for our reactions—for our emotional responses to others and to situations in our lives. Until we take responsibility for our own behavior and our reactions we cannot live a life of meaning or joy. You may not have control over what happens to you, but you do have control over how you respond or react to what happens to you. You always have a choice. If you blame your actions on anyone else, for any reason, you are not taking responsibility. Let me repeat that—if you blame your actions on anyone else, for any reason, you are not taking responsibility. Blaming others for your responses to life will leave you stuck and keep you believing you are a victim, always at the mercy of others.
“But”, I can hear you say, “You don’t know what’s happened to me. I’ve had horrible experiences. People have done me wrong.” I’m here to tell you that doesn’t matter. As long as you allow your past experiences to hold you hostage and use them as an excuse for why your life doesn’t work today, you will remain stuck, stuck, stuck. One way to tell if you do this is to look at how you react to others. If you take offense at anyone, get annoyed, petulant, mad, sad, etc. you are holding onto the past, making up stories and allowing that to cloud your actions today.
One way to think about this is to look at Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This law holds true for inanimate physical objects or for interactions between animate and inanimate objects. However, if we think about human interactions, this law breaks down. Actions and reactions are never equal. The law of human interaction might be something like this: For every action encounter between two or more people there is an unequal and unrelated reaction. Let’s call this the Saga Law. In fact, rather than reaction, we might think of the response to someone else’s action as a re-enaction, because often our response is a reenactment of our past rather than an objective, present-centered response to the other person.
A Newtonian encounter is a just the facts encounter: action—reaction. A saga encounter is one that follows the following pattern: Action—musing, thought, story creation, making up meaning and motive, addition of past encounters, traumas, dramas, labels, childhood beliefs—reaction.
How do you tell if you are using the Saga Law? It’s simple: if you ascribe ANY meaning to someone else’s actions you are writing a saga—creating a story based on your own stuff that has nothing to do with the actual encounter. For most of us, this happens in every encounter we have.
Let me give you an example. A just the facts version of an encounter: Beulah walks up to Jane. Beulah says “Hi Jane.” Jane doesn’t respond. She turns and walks the other way. Those are the facts of the encounter. Now, think about what goes on in Beulah’s head. Does she just go on? Not likely. More likely is that she is now making up stories about why Jane walked away—Jane is mad, Jane doesn’t like me, Jane always snubs me, I’m a piece of crap, Jane’s a bitch, Jane’s deaf and on and on. Does this feel familiar?
All those stories we make up about what other people do come from hidden beliefs, past ideas and stories we’ve told ourselves and they serve to keep us miserable and keep us blaming others for the way we feel. As long as we blame others for how we feel we will NEVER be happy, because we are hinging our happiness on other people behaving in a certain way and we can NEVER control how other people behave—NEVER.
To begin reclaiming your life, the first step is to become aware of the stories you tell yourself. This can be tricky, because often we react to people before we are cognizant of what we are thinking or feeling. You must question yourself and your reactions—you must call yourself on your own delusions. You must be willing to admit that your reactions are yours; they are not anyone else’s responsibility. Stop holding others hostage. Until you do you will continue to be miserable and sad and blame everyone else for why your life doesn’t work. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote: “When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”
So, this week begin to reclaim responsibility for your reactions and your re-enactions. Question your stories. Live for right now. Live for joy.