I was absolutely livid. And then suddenly, I wasn’t.
Here’s what happened:
A few years back I wandered into Tara’s office and was blathering on about some new idea I had for a program I might offer. I also overlooked the fact that she was focused on her computer screen. After a while, she looked up and said, ‘Is this something you’re talking about or something you’re actually planning on doing?”
My ‘flow’ stopped. I left her office chastened. Then brooding. Then angry. Then hurt. Then resentful.
I defaulted to an old strategy I’d perfected over the decades. I didn’t say anything.
As the saying goes, ‘What you repress, you’ll eventually express.”
I was embarrassed that I wasn’t aware Tara was on a deadline. She was rightfully irritated. I was talking out loud about something I might do and I could understand how exasperating that would be. But didn’t I deserve a little space to figure out what I was going to do with my life?
Twice a week Tara and I sit together for meditation and check-in. I was dreading this one.
The meditation only seemed to amplify my confusion and anger. By the time the bell rang, I was knotted up inside.
When it was time to check-in, I unleashed a stream-of-consciousness jumble of hurt, anger and resentment, barely aware of what I was saying.
When I was done, Tara was a bit taken aback.
After a pause, she said, “If I had come into your office wanting to share some ideas with you … and you reacted the way I did … I’d be feeling exactly the same way.”
As soon as Tara conveyed her understanding of my point of view, that festering and brooding storm of resentment evaporated.
We now have a little saying when we have a conflict: “The first person to do a role-reversal wins.”
I’ve since learned four magical words that can dramatically initiate a feeling of empathy:
“I imagine you’re feeling ….”
When we’re in conflict (and in our desire to be the ‘winner’) one of us will come in pretty quickly with “I imagine you’re feeling …”
That pause, sensing and sharing inevitably changes the course of the conversation.
I try to apply this technique as often as I remember. When I’m in a conversation:
What do I imagine this person is feeling right now?
What do I imagine this person is needing right now?
At Safeway, I was standing across from the cashier who was scanning my items. I noticed it was just before 5:00 pm. I tried to imagine her point of view and said, “I imagine you’re feeling pretty wiped out at the end of a long day.”
She smiled broadly and said, “No. Actually, I’m totally psyched about this party I’m going to later. A friend is back from college and our whole gang will be back together!”
I realized then that it doesn’t even matter if I’m wrong. My intention to sense what another person is feeling and wanting is enough to cultivate connection.
The Buddha allegedly said that “Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as ‘I’ or ‘mine.’”
When we can suspend, if just for a moment, our point of view and open to another, we can set the stage for a moment of inter-relatedness and new possibilities that did not exist just moments earlier.