You can feel the anger in the room. One guy is almost scowling. Another woman is sitting with her arms crossed squarely on her chest, brows smashed together. There is little to no conversation.
We are in a workshop and no one knows what’s going on. There is no agenda or outline. The group leaders are jumping from one topic to another, and they have changed plans once already. We’re being asked seemly random questions and told to step up to the plate without knowing which game we’re playing.
I am in the midst of a rotten day of missed expectations and less-than experiences. I am already annoyed, and become more so in this chaos. My breath is shallow and short, my temples are tight. A burning sensation is rising in my chest like mercury in a heated thermometer.
The group leaders notice the dissonance in the room. The comments are getting more biting. They offer that they are there – in their fullest commitment – to make the most out of our experience. They admit that they did not start out gracefully and open up the floor to figure out what would make our experience of this workshop better.
But I am long gone. Meetings are supposed to have clear agendas, I rant to myself. Why are they so disorganized? Did I really pay this much money to get this? I cannot function without clarity and structure. This is a waste of my time, I conclude with a sense of righteousness.
Uncertainty and chaos are uncomfortable for me. Not getting what I am expecting is painful. In my desperate need to escape the discomfort, I did what I always do – I fortified myself against it with a great internal story of ‘they are wrong and I am right.’
By the end of the workshop I had realized how far I sank in this downward spiral of judgments and internal dialogue, shutting myself off from what was happening, from the leaders, and from my workshop peers. I was barely able to hear their genuine attempts to improve the situation, much less productively contribute to the conversation. I was in the workshop to learn and to participate, and I was doing anything but.
I was blinded by my own annoyance and a sense of righteousness that things have to be a certain way. I am entitled to my own perfect experience, I decided, and these people are getting in my way.
I was caught in binary thinking: my way or the highway. Black or white. I am right and they are wrong. My thinking became rigid and my reality too.
In the moment of internal storytelling I was using to cover up the discomfort I was feeling – and in that feeling of righteousness and entitlement, I shut off what was possible.
“The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.”
~ Pema Chodron
Almost everything went wrong that day. And it went so right.
I watched myself come to the cusp of the point of no return, that pissed-off state when I am not paying attention and am disconnected from reality. I got in the way of my own possibilities, once again.
And I recovered. I got triggered and then I caught myself (with the help of our expert group leaders, no less) from spiraling down further. And in that, I learned how my discomfort of uncertainty creeps in and how I mobilize my energy to push it away – to the detriment of my own learning. I was reminded how blind I become in that triggered state.
I am learning about my “buttons”: what triggers them, and more importantly, what I do internally when they get pushed.
The more I am willing to see my part in pushing away the discomfort of uncertainty – all those mental tactics I employ – the more it dissipates and becomes just another sensation. And the more I am willing to sit with that sensation and let things unfold, the more open and encompassing my own perspective becomes.
I learn, and growth become possible.