Our world is so similar to a kaleidoscope. We are looking and things are constantly changing, with moments of shape shifting dispersed between moments of clarity. Seeing the shapes seems to be the goal because as children it’s the only thing we understood. Everything between is a waiting game. And yet, the space between shapes is the time that, as an adult, I’ve learned is more important. It’s the time in which we learn to live with ourselves, and with others. It’s the space where we learn to love, because things aren’t so easy when we love for longer than a tender moment, and learning is a process, not spontaneous combustion.
To live fully in the space between is to hurt and to be okay with not much happening. It’s during this time that we find what compels us because if all we can see is a jumble and a mess and feel tumultuous inside but still touch that place that makes us smile in our hearts or laugh out loud when no one is around, then we’ve indeed found something that will matter forever.
At the launching of a new shape (a new project or relationship or holiday) everything seems good, things make sense because we can see clearly what is happening. As a child (or adult) these things are good because we can grasp them mentally and emotionally, we get it. And when everything starts to blur (heading to another shape as a kaleidoscope always does) we often begin to panic.
That is where rituals save us or they break us. I’m such a firm believer in daily rituals because they’ve made the most direct impact on my life.
I’ve written about habits plenty in the past but I want to dig a little into what I call responsive habits.
I’ll give an example before a wordy description: (because that’s more entertaining and I want you to finish this).
Yesterday I was talking with a supervisor and he approached me with a look I’ve seen before. It is probably translated differently by every employee but the word that comes to mind for me is “nagging”. I knew it was coming without even thinking, I’ve seen it and experienced it enough.
In the past, I’ve waited for my supervisor to start talking about whatever it is he is dissatisfied about (often completely unrelated to me but a thing for me to know about nonetheless), and listened to him drone while trying to stay present and understand how I could help. Over time, I’ve learned that what this is really about is him having something to bitch about (and someone to bitch to), not me making a change so that he’s happy. Apparently I’m a good listener because the man comes to me often. So, I realized, I’m sort of purporting the position of the bitchee, which I am not actually good at.
Here’s a responsive habit I’ve cultivated:
I see him coming at me, that twist in his mouth and sort of apologetic smile in his eyes, as if to say, “I’m sorry but I’m not sorry cause you’re the rookie here anyway,” and I remember my new response.
Hand shoots out, a laugh in my mouth and I head to him faster than he was coming to me, “(name entered here), what’s going on man, good to see you!” Big shake of the hand with free hand coming around to touch the arm. So much love happening there.
I go on.
“I haven’t seen you, how was your Thanksgiving, how’s your family?” Impossible to not answer these questions.
Short answers roll off the tongue, a hurried mumble as he tries to stay in touch with his mission here. I stay strong.
“That’s great, I haven’t seen you (notice my repeat, annoying right? perfect.) glad you had a good Thanksgiving, mine was great too, (he probably realizes now that he didn’t ask me back, and although I didn’t plan this, it’s the product of enthusiastic conversation) I got to see my whole family and had a really amazing time with them, God it’s good to be back home though, sometimes I just get a little crowded with all the nagging and talking my parents can do.” Pause here as I watch the gears turn. “Yessir,” I say more quietly, “it’s really good to be back. I’ll keep doing (some task I’m sort of staying busy with and enjoying) so we can stay on track today.” A big smile and movement back to my work before he reaches out and stops me. “Uh, yeah, no that’s uh good, yeah keep doing that.” He pauses, as if he thought he saw an oasis in the desert and upon arrival has just found more sand. “I just wanted to mention that um, the trucks were dirty when we came on shift this morning and if you guys get a chance will you clean them up?” All of this is said in a quiet, almost disappoint voice, as if he was no longer excited about the matter.
“Absolutely, we’ll knock it out first thing after lunch.” Boom. Massive detailed bitch-a-roo avoided. Why? Because I’ve learned that enthusiasm for something positive counters enthusiasm for something negative.
Now, some may call this manipulative, and maybe it is a little, but no more so than bitching to someone is manipulating their time and energy for your own relief. I mean, that’s like indecent exposure of the ear drums, completely unacceptable.
So, back to the subject at hand, responsive habits. As you can see, this is a very simple concept. It’s looking at a situation that you didn’t enjoy, examining how you responded to the stimulus, and creating a new one. I will say that about 90% of the time, a response can be changed from a passive or neutral approach to an enthusiastic or loving one and the results will be much more of what you wanted. If you are excited and positive about something (anything!) it’s very hard for someone to mope about something, simply because you started first! The opposite is also true.
Never is the proper response to be an ass hat or rude, that generally just breeds more of the same thing. What I’m talking about is similar to the scene in GroundHog day where Bill Murray’s character finally figures out how to deal with Ned:
Well, maybe that’s a little too much.
As we begin to observe our reactions to situations, we begin to see that we often respond in the same way. Either from annoyance, or anger, or sadness, or passivity. Sometimes, it’s a combination of things and often it’s not what we want. What is it that we really want?
Empowerment. Feeling like the director of the drama of our lives, as opposed to audience members, is what we all desire. It’s why we create, or work 12 hour days, coach our kids little league, or surprise our partner with romantic gestures. We love to feel as if what we do actually matters.
The best part is that when we observe how we habitually react we immediately begin to change. It’s impossible not to, according to quantum mechanics.
And when we begin to evolve our conditioned behaviors into beautiful behaviors, the kind that we would admire in someone else or that we know someone would admire in us, what we do actually does matter.
Be a cultivator of your habits and responses. Someone will notice.
A kaleidoscope moves seemingly on its on accord, with the dizzying shapes and swirls captivating us deeply, watching as things change and grow and come back again.
The problem with reactive living is that we forget our own power. Being so involved in the movements in front of our eyes we forget our ability to observe and respond as we wish. It often seems life is just a dance of beauty and fear, of chaos and perfection, and we are in the crowd watching.
Let us not forget that we are dancers too.
After all, it’s our hand that is turning the kaleidoscope wheel.