Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bodhisattva Field Notes #1: Don't You Tell ME Not to Be Stressed!

My wife had a hectic schedule today, and succumbed to stress early in the am. We were chatting via IM, and I offered what I thought was sage advice: "Honey, don't be stressed. Just relax."

If you're thinking that this didn't work so well...well, you win the prize. As my wife said later, "Telling someone to 'relax' when they're stressed is like telling someone who's depressed to 'cheer up'."

Looking back on it now, I can see that when I first realized my wife was stressed, I reverted to thinking about myself. I thought about how frazzling it can be to be around her when she's stressed. I wanted to neutralize that ASAP - not for her sake, but for mine. I didn't realize it at the time, but what I felt was what Pema Chodron calls "the tug of shenpa": the feeling of being "hooked" when a powerful emotion is about to take over our thoughts, words, and actions.

The moral? Telling someone when they're in the thick of an emotion to drop it is a losing strategy. Better to do something constructive - like offer to perform one of their chores, or look at their list of tasks for something that can be put off until another day. Let the person deal with their emotion in time, in their own way. Beyond that, be there for them - lovingly, selflessly, completely. Let the tug of shenpa work its way through you, then rediscover your connection to the Divine and operate from Her radiance.

Hi Jigdral,
I have recently happened upon your writing and wanted you to know that it is appreciated. I began a practice of some yoga to loosen up my body (on a scale of 1 to 10 of muscle tension, my massage therapist told me a year ago that I was an 11!), and some medititation to loosen up my wandering and structured mind.
It's helpful to see how others fare in this meditation practice and your thoughts and experience is helping to guide my wandering mind to be still. Thanks again.
Peace, lyle
Good observation. I sometimes make the mistake of saying similarly "hooked" things to my partner, and she replies in a way similar to your wife.

I'm kinda dumb sometimes. When she's feeling some strong emotion, I become uncomfortable with it because I don't deal in strong emotions. So I'm all about, "Take a deep breath and calm down." Like that's ever going to work.

I've learned not to say things like that. I've also learned that sometimes people just need to be how they need to be -- sad, stressed, or whatever. My approach now is to ask if there is anything I can do to help. Sometimes she tells me right away, sometimes she just says no.

Anyway, thanks for the post. It was a good reminder.

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