An Eye on Conflict
I’ve often struggled with direction. I’m aware that can mean many different things, and I think most of them have been true at some point in my life. For starters, sometimes I have a hard time successfully identifying right and left without an embarrassingly conscious effort. I’m great at getting around in my own city, but put me somewhere I don’t know and North, South, East and West will become actual wonders, not helpful guides. The rare exception happened in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where I once embodied pure navigational genius in a place I’d never been, and I make it a point to remind myself it really happened because it contradicts my expected experience (also, it was really freaking cool). Somewhere deep inside me, it helps me remain aware of what is truly possible, no matter what my ego believes. Defining where we end and something else begins is at the root of our feelings and our conflicts nearly every single time. Even when we know that to be true intellectually, believing it requires us to somehow acknowledge that we are all connected. If this is not obviously apparent to us, believing it will require some intention, or a big dose of universal intervention.
Taking direction from others does NOT come naturally for me. My immediate reactions can be closed and limited (shock face) until I find a way to relax into the task. I know and believe that being present with my breath will bring me - rapidly - back to center. I've learned how to listen and follow; a lifelong path that I can finally claim to enjoy walking. Thankfully, I’ve stopped resisting input I think I don’t want until after I’ve actually heard it. There’s a lot of useful information in the act of telling, even if the advice itself might still suck. When we aren’t tied up in defending our positions (internally or out loud), we learn a lot about the person offering up the direction. The more time we spend in awareness - especially during conflict - the better prepared we are to remain present for the conversation, not explode like ammo (internally or out loud) because we’ve come upon one of our triggers. The reverb makes it nearly impossible for us to continue listening, changing the trajectory from passive to reactive with little warning. When we can’t find our center in our natural environment, we begin mentally scrambling for physical safety, forgoing any concern for intellectual solutions. In a state of fight or flight, we can only push at conflicts because our reasonable selves aren’t present in the moment.
Often the key to finding conflict resolution is to lean all the way into the conflict, heart first. This isn’t easy to do, but the rewards are fabulous. Finding comfortable ground in uncomfortable spaces may not seem like a fun way to spend your precious time, but once you jump into those waters, you’ll find that learning to swim in the waves of your feelings comes easily. Not only that, you begin to see the forces of your own power because you are simply more clear and present within yourself. You begin to see your passions and your values take center stage as you make your way through the ever-shifting emotional seas your life presents. Embracing what’s important, ahead of the struggle, lets us maneuver the choppiest waters without making us feel like we are drowning. Instead, we are present and able to feel one with the (e)motion of the ocean.
The same goes for finding motivation. When our value system is well known to us, we can follow our passions without self-judgment and without feeling a need to defend our choices. We feel grounded from a place that lets us invite others in with a willingness to be vulnerable. As we spend intentional time with our insecurities rather than trying to deny or avoid them, they transform into something powerful. The energy that drags us down is the exact same energy that can be used to lift us up–it must only remember its passion. That awareness boosts our confidence and lets us look at where we are headed from a brighter (less judgmental) angle. This involves a personal solving of our complicated physical equation: connecting mind + body. Clear Breathing = Conflict Busting = True Healing.
I recall my 15 year old self lying in bed at 11:00am day after day one summer. Looking back, I was probably depressed in some way. I wasn’t eating healthy – in fact I’m not sure how much nutrition came near me in those years. Starch, salt and sugar were the staples of my diet, accompanied by Diet Coke and it’s a wonder I’m not diabetic as a result. I remember a voice inside my head saying “at least get up and sleep outside so you get a tan. Or walk up to the pool and see your friends”. I ignored it for a bit, but eventually it let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I would one day look back on that time period and regret the way I spent it. Somehow that single thought worked me out of my funk, and I have never forgotten the perspective of looking at how I spend my time from a place in the future. It helps me remember what is important to me so that I don’t become stuck in tedious arguments or having so much to do that I can’t decide where to act.
I like to be busy, but I don’t like to feel rushed. The worst is when that feeling comes from inside myself, because if I find myself kicking up the pressure from the inside out, I’m bound to run into some conflict soon. It’s practically an invitation to entertain some problems, and I found myself in that very situation this weekend. My dance card was already pretty full when I experienced a scary moment with my left eye. I was easily able to get an emergency appointment after revisiting a dispute about a cancellation charge I had previously refused to pay (hello conflict week!). I left the eye doctor with dilated eyes and more than a little fear about the very real possibility of further retinal damage. But I didn’t have much time to spend thinking about it.
I had an ORM Board Meeting, guests in town for the weekend, my house wasn’t ready, and the Chiefs were playing in the Superbowl so we were also hosting a gathering. There was a sanctioned Disc Golf event Sunday morning that I was hoping to play in as long as I was ready for my meeting, because my friends were in town. I put my eye out of my mind as best I could and powered through our agenda, having a great time. Sunday morning rolled around and I had reservations. I was prepared for my meeting, but I felt an inner questioning that was nagging me, though I was barely listening. The much louder voice was the three people in my kitchen, preparing to leave and play disc golf. Fred called out “we’re leaving in 13 minutes”, so I stuffed the voice and geared up. I was excited about hoping I could have a good score despite my lack of recent practice. When I stepped into the bright sunlight on the course, the shadows dancing in my eye intensified, and my brain began entertaining options.
I threw three practice shots that all landed within 12 inches of each other. The problem was, they were 12 feet from where I was aiming. Alarms went off in my head, but I snoozed them, confident I could pull it together. It was going to be a beautiful day and I was determined to enjoy it, dammit! In fact, it began warming up quickly, making the ground lose integrity as the frozen snow turned to mud. The uneven terrain, combined with my shoddy eyesight, was challenging enough, but with mud in the mix, it was time for me to call it quits and my inner voice rose up again, pointing out that I was taking extra shots since my aim was off, and I was going to become frustrated if it kept going that way.
Do we think I listened? I did not! I carried on, letting my ego drive my choices, perhaps because I didn’t want to seem like a bad sport to my guests. A few holes later, the struggle got real when I missed the ground stepping off the teepad because of the ‘spots’ in my eyes. I felt a crunching sensation as pain developed instantly in my left ankle. I wondered to myself if that’s the same spot where Patrick Mahomes was injured. I made a deal to take his pain for him so I could justify staying out there to finish the round, even though I was now slowing the group and probably making it uncomfortable for the rest of my card. In my mind, I was not showing weakness, but looking back today, I’m not sure what I thought I was covering.
Since I was in the middle of conflict, I just couldn’t see any of that truth. I was only trying to make it through to the end (and why?!). Once I was off the course and my reasoning returned, I wondered out loud why I didn’t adhere to the warning signs my body was clearly sounding. What made me think risking further injury was a solid bet with the increasing muddy terrain and my sketchy eyesight? And why didn’t I accept any offers for help or listen to good advice? Because that’s how I personally react in trauma–as if it’s not happening and I will be fine if I just get through it.
This really says a lot about me (even to myself) and has me reflecting on some previous conflicts where my apparent stubbornness might really be the result of a triggered push into an emotional fight or flight. In conflict, it happens to all of us, though we are often loath to recognize it. My reasoning self lives for connection, but when my fears become triggered I try hard to convince myself I don’t need it. That’s not the same as being unaware of the connection, but it’s just as damaging to our growth and movement. Ultimately, our conflicts are designed to shift us from our stuck beliefs into broader understanding of the bigger picture.
Since some of us continue to see ourselves as utterly separate, those of us who are able to appreciate the deep roots of our connections will help hold the space for everyone to eventually move and grow together, no matter the nature of the next conflict.