Last night in Jan’s writing workshop, she asked us to close our eyes as she placed something in our hand. It was our writing prompt. She asked us to use all of our senses. I felt the small, heart-shaped fruit with its frilly leaves and seedy exterior. I smelled its berry essence and remembered dishes of strawberry ice cream that I used to stir into soupy cold concoctions on hot Iowa summer evenings after dinner. I listened and could hear the mournful train whistle, remembering afternoons of berry picking next to the ravine near our house. Blackberries we plucked from the bushes, eating more than we took home. I took a bite and savored the juice and the pulpy interior.
I thought of the story I had just read about the monk who was being chased by a tiger. He ran as fast as he could through the forest, the tiger right behind him. He ended up at the edge of a cliff. With the tiger closing in, he jumped. As he fell over the side, he grabbed onto a bush, his feet catching on a precarious ledge. The tiger paced patiently above him. Far below him lay the canyon floor. He noticed one perfect strawberry on the bush … and he ate it. The most delicious strawberry he had ever tasted.
How often do I focus on the strawberry and not the tiger or the rocks below? I’m afraid the tiger gets my attention far more often. I get triggered and I go to this place of running away or becoming invisible or I toss blame and judgment like hot coals at the person I perceive as not understanding or accepting me. Pema Chodron says when you judge others, it’s as if you are throwing hot coals at them and one or two might hit, but it’s a certainty that you will burn your own hands.
My practice has been Nonviolent Communication, where I try to slow down and breathe when I am triggered. I notice the automatic thoughts that come up when I feel threatened. “What a jerk. He shouldn’t treat me that way. How disrespectful. Doesn’t she know how hard I’m trying?” Then I give myself some empathy. “What am I feeling right now? … Sad and a little angry. What am I needing? … I would love to be seen for the contributions I am making, to be understood and accepted. I really want to belong here.”
Then, when I feel a little space, I might get really curious about what need that person was trying to meet with their actions. I remember what Marshall Rosenberg says: “Judgments are tragic expressions of unmet needs.” When I remember that we are very much alike … both wanting understanding and appreciation … options for getting both of our needs met can emerge – often in ways I would not have thought of before connecting with that person.
When I can observe the situation without labeling and diagnosing the other person, I can focus more on the sweet taste of the strawberry and less on the tiger.