My sister thinks I have thick skin. I call it an opportunity, or practice. I'm trying to help someone who is in dire need and I'm working really hard at it but not in the way you may expect. It's more emotional work for me. Here's why.
My friend, let's call her Cait, is an older lady whose husband was recently placed in a nursing home. The difficulty is that Cait can't afford the cost of his care, even with all the subsidies, and her own expenses. I'm really great at budgeting so I've offered to help her understand what she can afford and how to move forward.
I met Cait a few years ago when she was a neighbor in one of our many moves. We now live in different countries and that is not helpful. All of our conversations are on the phone. Cait is scared, embarrassed by the situation, with no family, and frustrated - all understandable. What happens though are that my conversations with her become accusatory, angry, renditions of what she is feeling, with me as the scapegoat. According to Cait I think she's stupid, some kind of blithering idiot! I went online to help find a new place for her to live, and sent the link of a possible place. It was promptly rejected without a feasible explanation. I asked why? That became a telling off about how I don't know the area and she's no deadbeat so she would never be caught dead in such a neighborhood. She had been out looking and not sitting around relaxing, as apparently I believed.
Inevitably she calls me back, not with an apology, but in a calmer state and ready for a more reasonable conversation. I share the story only to give you some context but in reality the only thing that's important in this story is my reaction.
I think the problems of the world aren't caused by people coming together and saying "let's make problems." They're caused by people coming together and saying "let's make solutions" without having solved the problem of their own suffering. ~ Shinzen Young
I understand my ‘own suffering’ to mean what’s not going right in my own life – and there’s a few of those - which begs the question, “why do I think I can help Cait?” I’m saying to her let’s come together to solve your problem. Yet, if I’m not prepared to walk in her shoes and understand where she’s coming from I’m no use.
I have been taking the opportunity to reflect on how I respond to Cait, like wanting to be right, and ask myself: where else is that desire working in my life oh so successfully? I feel the heat rising and the desire to lash out when she’s telling me what I’m thinking or how I don’t know anything – because it’s usually crap, according to Cait! Hmmm…could it be I’ve done that to others? Do I think that I’ll be lauded as a martyr or did I not hear what happened to Joan of Arc for example? I’d rather stick around and I have a hard time letting this lady suffer where I know I can help.
Now, as Cait and I have the more difficult 'conversations' I find myself practicing a body check-in. I ask, "where am I feeling the tension now?" If I feel it in my jaw (often) I work to relax it. If I'm holding my breath (a lot) I take a few deep breaths and try to lengthen it. When I feel myself about to break the pencil I let it go. I look at my open palm, wiggle my fingers and let go as much as I can. All the while listening to Cait on the phone.
This is an extreme situation and I understand that Cait is under a lot of stress; having me bite back isn't useful. And if I can get through this with Cait my own learning will be phenomenal because with each practice (phone call), I learn to deepen my inner peace despite to chaos and anger coming at me. My own suffering is reduced as I act from a place of peace. And Cait is coming to know, slowly, that I'm only here to help not to judge.
This is not an easy process, trust me! But I think the body check-in is a marvelous tool. It's all about becoming aware of where you are holding tension in your body, and then releasing it. Over time the idea is to know when it's on the rise circumventing it. Best practiced regularly so in the highly charged situations you are quickly aware of what's happening based on your past experiences. Then you can step back to collect yourself, or release the tension in whatever way has worked positively for you in the past. Now, when I see a call come in from Cait I go directly to a deeper breath and I sit a certain way :)
Do you have a your own version of the body check in? I’d love to hear about it. If not, try mine and let me know how it goes :)