The Post – Real Safety in Life – Stop Fighting

This entry came through the other morning from my online spirituality class with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. The topic – safety – so caught my eye…and my heart, that I printed it and left it on my desk.

For one thing, I had a sense I needed to blog about it, even though at the moment, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say.

For the other, it is a topic whose solution is so counterintuitive, it never comes to mind first, for probably anybody, at least not for me. It is always my most immediate first reaction, to want to defend myself, fight for my rights, “put up my emotional fists” so that I can feel safe.

So I knew that his words would need to end up here, if only to remind ME, day in and day out, where REAL safety exists. I share this entry in case anyone else out there is like me, and might find this reminder useful.

I will add that Thich Nhat Hanh knows the subject firsthand, having lived through the Vietnam War – in Vietnam…while the bombs fell around him. So I will defer to him on knowing what real safety in life is….

“…Many people think of safety in terms of weapons and armies, but even with a powerful army and a stock of weapons, there are moments when the American people feel very frightened, very vulnerable. We can learn to build our safety with our in-breath and our out-breath, with our steps, with the way we act or react, with a smile or a word, with our effort to restore communication.

You cannot feel safe with the person who lives with you if you cannot communicate with him or her. You cannot feel safe when the other person does not look at you with sympathy, when you are not capable of looking at him or her with compassion. Safety can be built with your way of looking, your way of smiling, with your way of walking. …Show the other person that you are truly not harmful, that he is safe in your presence, in the way you think, the way you breathe, smile and walk…by expressing your peace, your compassion, the other person feels very safe. And when the other person feels safe, you are safe. Safety is not an individual matter.” (From Friends on the Path: Living Spiritual Communities)

In case you think this is just “theoretical” and doesn’t work in practice, I will share one of my usual “foot in mouth” moments, where yet again, I fought to stand up for my rights when a civil approach might have had better results.

Last week I approached the racquetball court where 2 men were playing. It was already a whole minute past their allotted time. They were now on MY time. I was tired, irritable, and not up for anyone to “step on my toes.” Now I wasn’t trying to be mean, but I did want them to know I expected my rights respected, RIGHT THEN. I knocked on the glass wall and essentially kicked them off the court. Their volley for point was interrupted and they were irritable. I had managed to spread my black cloud onto them. They came out and grumbled at me. I grumbled at them. They walked away grumbling. I vaguely recall a gesture on my part.

Now the plain fact was, they WERE overtime. And they HAD seen me and continued to serve. So were they right? No.

But did my own actions end up bringing me happiness? No. I felt like an ass. I felt even more miserable, because truly I don’t like to be at odds with others. All I really wanted was my fair time on the court, but instead of asking in a civil manner, I got angry and huffy. So instead of feeling better, all I had succeeded in doing was making all three of us even more miserable. So, no. They weren’t right, but frankly, neither was I.

Yesterday morning I approached the same court, with the same two guys. I knew they would be there, they always are. I had decided on my course of action and walked to the window. They saw me, and I could tell they immediately tensed up. You could see it in their faces and body language. They stopped immediately and walked toward the door of the court … toward me. I could see the tension in the air between us.

As they stepped off the court, before they could even say a word, I turned and simply said, “Look. I want to apologize for my behavior last week.” I could see this caught them both off guard. The “ready-for-battle” facial expressions shifted to surprise. The “air of defense and battle” shifted.

I went on. “I was having a really bad morning. I don’t like to have that kind of interaction with people, and so I apologize.”

Before I could even finish my apology you could see their whole demeanor shift from one of being ready to fight me to actually trying to make me feel better. In a split second, their defenses came down, their faces opened, they smiled, and the “war” was over. They said it was okay, it wasn’t a big deal. As they walked away, one even turned and said, “We really do want to respect other people’s time on the court.” They never would have felt SAFE to offer that, if I hadn’t done something to make it safe…stop the battle. Since I started the battle, it was my responsibility to stop it. Our interaction ended with a smile, and a wish for each to have a good day.

Now. Certainly the “self-righteous” part of me who doesn’t like to be wrong, didn’t want to admit my flaws. That part ALWAYS wants to stand its ground and WIN, and prove the other person is wrong. But when there’s a winner, there’s a loser, and when there’s a loser, in the long run, NOBODY ends up happy. And in reality, NOBODY is ever TOTALLY right or wrong. In any interaction, everyone can probably do a little bit better.

Had I “gone in there fighting” the whole atmosphere between us would have worsened, the animosity increased, and then every week I would walk in there, more and more afraid. Would my “fighting for my rights” have brought me a greater sense of “safety”? Absolutely not.

For sure if someone is coming at me with a baseball bat, yes, I will fight back. If only to defend myself and stop the other person from doing further harm to himself or another. But beyond that, real safety, real connection, comes from lowering the fists and opening the arms.

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