Whenever we look at a situation, we see our past in it because every event gets interpreted, and interpretations are rooted in the past. Just to realize that you are placing an interpretation on everything, no matter how trivial, is an important step toward freeing yourself from the past. Realize that you are always seeing things from one point of view.
1. Realize that you have an interpretation. In a conflict situation, I try to tell myself that my viewpoint is limited; I don’t have a patent on the truth.
2. Set aside the old mindset. When I feel tense, I take this as a signal that I’m holding on too tightly to my point of view.
3. Look at things from a new perspective. I focus on the feelings in my body, and as I do, inevitably my mind starts to see things slightly differently.
4. Question your interpretation to see if it is still valid.
5. Focus on process, not outcome. Stress always arises if you concentrate on how something must turn out.
When I go through these five steps, the daily annoyances that create inappropriate stress dissolve very quickly. I try to be easy on myself; sometimes a situation pushes too many buttons, and the stress response begins before I know it. When that happens, the only sensible thing to do is to ride with it; the body isn’t going to return to its non-stressed state until the reaction has run its course.
The next step is to apply these five steps. Think of someone who hurt your feelings very badly and whom you cannot forgive. The five steps might carry you into this line of reasoning.
1. I feel hurt, but that doesn’t mean the other person was bad or meant to hurt me. He doesn’t know my entire past, and I don’t know his. There’s always another side to the story, despite my hurt.
2. I’ve been hurt like this before, and therefore maybe I was too quick to judge this incident. I need to see each thing as it is.
3. I don’t need to see myself as a victim here. When was the last time I was on the other side of the same situation? Didn’t I feel pretty caught up in my own motives? Did I give give any more importance to the other person’s hurt than mine was given at this time?
4. Let me forget my feelings for a second. How did that other person feel? Perhaps he just lost control or was too wrapped up in his own world to notice my hurt.
5. This incident can help me. I don’t really care about blaming this person or getting back. I want to find out the kinds of things that create threat in me. The more I think about it, the more I see this is an opportunity to take responsibility for my feelings. That makes it easier for me to forgive, since anyone who teaches me something about myself deserves my thanks.
When you begin to get into the habit of consciously and carefully examining your old interpretations in this way, you create a space for spontaneous freedom.
Adapted from Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (Three Rivers Press, 1998).