I was driving around slowly in a crowded parking lot, looking for an open space. It was a beautiful summer day and I was happy, singing along with the radio. I came up to a car with his right blinker flashing. So I slowly pulled ahead of him and continued my 10 mph procession down the lot.
I saw a guy pulling out ahead, to my left.
“Yay! Perfect timing!”
As he pulled out, I parked in his place and turned the engine off. But as soon as I opened the door, I heard aggressive honking coming from behind. At first, I didn’t think it was for me but as I closed my door and clicked the lock button, I saw an older man get out of a car and head briskly in my direction. He started yelling before he even reached me.
“I was waiting for that spot!”
I was confused. It was the same guy I had passed moments earlier, on the other end of the lot.
“You were? Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”
He didn’t let me finished that sentence.
“Take your car out of that spot right now or I’ll blow your tires!”
He was seething. And I was completely caught off guard by this sudden and aggressive interaction.
Then…my mind was pulled into the drama very quickly.
You see: I’ve always been rather anti-authoritarian. I don’t like to take orders — especially from men. I’m not sure where this wound comes from. But it’s there. It’s been lodged in my subconscious mind for as long as I can remember.
I felt my body tighten and anger started to build up in my stomach. I looked over the angry man’s shoulder and saw his car. He was driving a top of the line Mercedes. My mind immediately piled on more thoughts:
But I didn’t outwardly do or say anything. I remained motionless for a few seconds, trying to stay fully present. I realized a wound of mine had been poked and was using the power of my consciousness to remain the observer of thought — without getting caught up in whatever the mind was thinking.
But the wound is deep. And Mercedes Guy kept poking.
“Are you taking this car out or not?”
My mind immediately answered:
“No freaking way you’re moving! If he had asked nicely, sure. But since he’s rude, you should teach him a lesson.”
I didn’t voice that thought though. I just remained motionless, starring at the guy as he threw his aggressive energy my way. He seemed bothered by my lack of reaction.
“Well? Are you taking the car out or not?”
I took a deep breath and stepped away from him. He stared at me, looking bewildered by my demeanor.
My mind continued to scream at me.
“Do not move this car! Teach him a lesson!”
But somehow, the words that actually came out of my mouth were:
“Sure, I’ll park somewhere else. No problem.”
For the rest of the day, my mind was relentless.
“I can’t believe you moved the car! Why did you do that?”
I was absolutely amazed at how much mental commotion that single incident caused in me. And as I sat down for my nightly meditation, I was keenly aware of how deep my subconscious pattern/wound around men and authority was. How did I know this?
If you want to know how deep your wounds are, simply notice how quickly your internal environment changes when they are poked.
Notice the profound change in my internal state during this episode with Mercedes Guy. One minute I was happy, singing with my radio tunes and enjoying the day. The next minute, I was angry.
How is that possible? How did my internal environment change that quickly? Because my subconscious pattern was deep. If it weren’t, I would not have felt anger or irritation toward the screaming man.
This reminded me of a favorite passage from the book “Rediscovering Life: Awaken To Reality,” by spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello. In it, De Mello talks about human “programming,” or subconscious patterns, as I call them.
De Mello was known for being a direct and sometimes blunt teacher. But his words go right to the point:
There are never any difficulties in relating to people. There are only difficulties in your programming. How come you’re getting upset?
You ask, “It’s possible to live with a guy who’s losing his temper every day and not get upset?”
Yes. Yes, very much so, to not be upset.
You ask, “When somebody insults you, you’re not getting upset?”
“Why not? Why not be upset when someone insults you?”
I mean, when the letter isn’t received, it’s sent back to the person who wrote it. You don’t receive it, it goes back. You know why you got insulted or why you were upset by the insult? Because you took it, that’s why. Silly, why did you take it?
“You mean that it’s possible not to take it?”
You mean, you call this being human — living like a little monkey? Anyone pulls a little string and you jump?
I’ll tell you what it means to be human. You know what it means to be human? It’s something like this: A guy buys a newspaper every day from a newspaper vendor. The newspaper vendor is always rude to him.
So a friend of his says, “Why do you buy your paper from this guy? He’s always rude to you. Why don’t you buy it from someone else just next door?”
Says the guy, “Why should the vendor decide where I buy my newspaper? Why should he have the power to decide that?”
Now, you’re talking about a human being. Otherwise, you’re talking about monkeys. You could control them; twist their tail a little and they act in predictable ways. Programming. Programming.
So, it isn’t the person who has upset you. It isn’t you who have upset yourself. It’s your programming. All you have to do is understand this and distance yourself from it, understand it. You want to do something about that programming? If you can, fine. Is it necessary? No. If you’re understanding it, you know that it comes from the programming, not from you, not from them. It’ll take care of itself, it really will.
You’ll be amazed that, after a few months, things that before would have made you sick with anxiety, or with suffering, or with whatever, you can take in your stride with perfect peace. You’re quite relaxed about it. That’s the spiritual life. That’s dying to yourself — dropping that programming. You drop it by understanding it for what it is. Call it by its name.
Drop it. Distance yourself from the programming. Exactly. I hadn’t dropped my taking-orders-from-men program. And once I re-read this passage, I knew it.
It dawned on me that this was my second episode with an angry man in the course of a year (I wrote about the 1st one here). Coincidence? I think not. Life was showing me my wounds.
Life was also giving me the opportunity to learn and evolve. And what were the lessons from this intense confrontation?
It can be incredibly difficult to remain present 100% of the time.
The truth is, I was about a fraction of a second away from flipping Mercedes Guy off and leaving my car there. My mind was even planning out what to do if he blew my tires.
Intense awareness can come naturally to some — like the great spiritual masters — but I truly believe that for the rest of us mortals, “presence” takes more work.
It was tremendously difficult for me to remain separated from the mental chatter going on under my skull. And it took some deliberate actions — which I will detail below — for me to hold the “watchers” view.
Life always mirrors your wounds back to you.
And in mirroring them, it whispers:
“Do you want to keep these wounds or let them heal?”
Or, as Anthony de Mello would probably say:
“Do you want to keep behaving like a monkey?”
These questions are an invitation to change something in our internal environment that is not in accordance with our infinite consciousness. And life will keep mirroring your wounds until you eventually see them.
I had a deep wound around men and authority. So life sent me an event with an angry man. I was confronted by him and learned some valuable lessons. But I overlooked the deep wound.
So a year later, life sent me another angry man.
The whole anti-authoritarian wound is part of my “program.” And it’s so deep that I allowed my internal world to be rattled by it. I allowed my happiness and peace to be disturbed by anger and judgment.
And this second incident with an angry man finally opened my eyes to this wound.
And I finally answered life’s question:
“Nope…I don’t want to keep the wound. I wish to let it go now.”
I got to these big picture lessons later on, with time and introspection. But in the heat of the moment, no one’s thinking about the “big picture.” When something intense happens in our external environment, it helps to have some “awareness training.” Sort of like CPR or First Aid training.
What actionable steps can you take when confronted by an intense situation that rattles your internal environment?
Deliberate Actions To Help You Stay Present…No Matter What.
Awareness of breath is absolutely key to remaining present — especially when confronted by intense, angry energy. If you find yourself in an intense situation, take a deep, conscious breath immediately.
You’ll be amazed at just how effective conscious breathing can be in deflating the power of the mind or ego.
The ego will try very hard to pull your awareness into its drama. By focusing your consciousness on your lungs, you keep yourself fully present and allow for some separation to occur between the real YOU — the observer of thought — and all the mental chatter going on in your brain (aka, the false YOU).
Hold the observer’s view
In other words: watch what your mind thinks. Once you breathe and put some initial distance between YOU and your mind, now it’s time to hold that distance consciously.
The more distance you put between YOU and the ego, the less likely you will be to react to the situation unfolding in front of you.
Put some physical space between yourself and the situation unfolding
As weird as this may seem to the person confronting you (as it was for Mercedes Guy), step away from the altercation altogether. Literally walk away. You can say:
“Excuse me for a second but I need to think this over”
Or simply walk away for a minute.
Putting physical space between you and the situation unfolding is important because it allows more time for you to center yourself before responding. But it also does something else that is unseen:
You remove yourself energetically from the vibes that are literally attacking you.
The truth is, we are not only affected by the words that others say. We are equally affected by their energy. We know someone is angry at us before they even open their mouths, right? And how do we know that?
Because we can sense energy even if we cannot explain how we do it.
The moment you physically walk away from the situation, you can untangle yourself from the energy thrown at you. Once you center your energy and feel more at peace, then return to the situation if you must.
Recognize immediately that a wound in you has been triggered
If you can see the wound as soon as it’s poked, you’ll be a lot less likely to react to the situation. Awareness is like light that illuminates the dark.
This is actually quite simple to do. As I described above, you can be 100% certain that a wound has been poked when:
Your internal environment is rattled.
Let the wound go
When your wounds are poked, when your internal environment is rattled…
Just let go.
There’s no better way for me to explain this. Simply let go of the ball and chain that has been shackling you. Because that’s exactly what a wound or “program” is:
A ball and chain that holds you back.
Think about it: do you really want to be held hostage by a subconscious pattern that can throw you off your peaceful center at any time?
If not, then just let go of the pattern when it is triggered. Leave the triggering part up to life. Life always brings you what you need in order to evolve. That means you can be certain your wounds will be poked sooner or later.
Life will simply send you a Mercedes Guy. And in that moment, you can let the wound go.
And last but not least:
Express gratitude to life when she sends you difficult situations.
Because at the end of the day, you have the opportunity to heal another wound.
In sending us difficult or intense experiences, life is helping us evolve.
And isn’t that miraculous?