Monday, June 17, 2013

Don't Run but Proceed with Caution: Negative People Ahead

     Did you know if you look up “Negative People” on the world wide web of computers under images, there is a barrage of “ignore”, “avoid”, and “run screaming, arms flailing” messages?  (I especially like “I hate negative people”.  Isn’t that something like "I can’t stand intolerant people?")  I get that.  To a certain extent.  Now, if you are with someone who is abusive mentally, emotionally, or physically, it is imperative to remove yourself from that situation for the sake of your personal wellbeing.  Changing another person’s behavior is not, nor will it ever be, your job.  But those negative situations are extreme circumstances and not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the person who you inadvertently sat next to at a dinner party and suddenly you feel your soul being sucked into a vortex of darkness with every comment they utter.  In reality, this has little to do with what the person is saying and mostly to do with how well you have conditioned yourself to process the information.
     I recently came across something called “General Adaptation Syndrome” which describes how the body responds, and adapts, to stresses placed on it.  This is the foundation of any exercise program and conditioning your body to become stronger and more functional. 
     There are 3 phases: the “Alarm Reaction” stage is how the body physiologically and psychologically responds to the increased force being placed upon it.  As in an “Oh my lord, I have not worked out in a long time and my muscles are KILLING me!!” sort of reaction.  In this phase, things are often uncomfortable and difficult; like making a running start on a sharp incline; you wear out quickly.  But, over time, you condition your body to more efficiently respond to those stresses placed upon them and the burden feels considerably lighter.  This is called the “Resistance Development” stage. 
     When I began studying these phases it immediately struck me how closely physical and emotional development are related.  They go through the same phases of development.  They are connected. 
About 3 years ago I actively decided to get my body into better shape.  It amazes me, now, how I can do certain things with veritable ease that seemed nearly IMPOSSIBLE 3 years ago.  But I wanted to be stronger.  I wanted to be able to adapt more easily to my surroundings, and just feel better. 
    As life would have it, about 2 ½ years ago I started on another conditioning program, one that was for my mind and life perception.  It was initiated by an “alarm reaction” to a stressful situation and I realized I wanted to get my intellect into better shape as well.  The way I was handling my life and how I saw it just wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be.  I was angry and frustrated.  The muscle I had to condition in this realm of development was my compassion, my understanding of others, and getting my ego out of the way.  Trust me; some days trying to move that self-serving ego is no small feat; it would be easier to lift weights and/or run for 12 hours straight!  It is difficult but I have been conditioning myself ever since because I want to see things in a different way.  I have little energy as it is; I hated the idea of spending it spinning my wheels in anxiety and anger.  The growth I have made – the peace I have created within me - is worth every moment invested.  It has become easier for me to understand the nature of others and therefore be more compassionate.  It has helped me build bridges – to connect – with those around me, near and far.
     The last phase of this development is the “Exhaustion” stage.  This is when “prolonged stress or intolerable amounts of stress can lead to exhaustion or distress”.  In a physical aspect, this is where injury occurs; fractures, strains, joint pain, emotional fatigue.  Essentially when the body can’t take any more and begins to break down.  In the psychological world, it is this point where your mind says, “I can’t take any more!”  Now, based on conditioning, life experiences, teachings, etc., we all have different boiling points – the moment we reach or maximum capacity of negative stressors.  For some, that path is very short – literally and figuratively, physically and emotionally.  For those that have not conditioned their compassion muscle (and it’s easy to let slide or ignore in a society teeming with visions of “me vs. you” (watched any reality TV lately?)), there’s going to be a lot of yelling and frustration.  I simply grew tired of that.  As I began to strengthen my mental muscle, the exhaustion stage took a lot longer to reach; I simply have better endurance. 
     So do I still get to my breaking point?  Shoot yeah!!  And some days thanks to inadequate sleep, poor dietary choices, dehydration, bad alignment of the planets, I can handle stresses/negativity a lot less efficiently or objectively.  But that’s no longer where I live.  I’ve made myself stronger by changing the shape of my perspective.  (And it looks AWESOME!)  Changing my perspective doesn’t change what other people do; that’s not my job.  I can only change me and so I have changed the way I listen to what another person is saying; when I do, I create a peaceful place inside of me that gives me clarity to open my eyes to another’s suffering.  I change my anger into sympathy, empathy, and compassion. 
     When I’m around someone who is as cuddly as a porcupine I realize I have no control over their bristles but I can handle the situation with care and understand that I too have bristles some days.  When those sharp jabs start to wear me down, that’s when I have to step back and regroup.  It’s still not about me but it can get hard to take.  By regrouping my thoughts, I give myself a better shot at absorbing those stings and just letting them pass through me verses feeling every prick; after all, those quills aren’t attached to MY skin. 
  Too much negativity can get exhausting.  But, in moderation, it has actually made me stronger, both emotionally and psychologically.  It gives me more perspective and has built my insight into other human beings.  And it’s interesting to me that some of the most negative people I have ever met will be the first to tell you how negative someone ELSE is!  (I wonder who just said, “I know, right?” and then paused a second…)
     EVERY creature has his or her place in the choir.  EVERY person has a purpose and a role.   You can’t control what others do, but you can change what you see if you aren’t happy with the condition you are in right now.  Physically or mentally.  It’s an ongoing process but it is a way of life that I have come to love.  I want to feel my best physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like a holy trinity, each is dependent on the other; individual parts all connected.  I am a happier person because I get out of my own way more and more each day and choose to see others as fellow people, all struggling in one way or another, just like I am.  We are all in this together.  I hope your struggles become a process that leads you to peace.

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