Every four years on Leap Day, we are reminded to re-sync our human made clock time to nature’s solar time. I don’t know about you, but this reminds me how I am always a little slow to catch on to what’s really going on. My self-awareness and other awareness are not as in sync with reality as I’d like to think.
Constructs like calendars are wonderful things. Our western calendar was implemented over 2000 years ago by Julius Caesar, helping the Romans provide consistency across their far flung empire. Like many of our constructs and plans, it’s a close approximation of reality. Close – but not quite.
We too have our plans, values, expectations, routine behaviors, ways of organizing ourselves, and people we enjoy being with. These provide consistency and a measure of predictability to our lives. We couldn’t live without them! This very reliability means we don’t examine them too often, until we find something jarring in our lives. Our usual ways of being are a good enough adaptation to our worlds – until suddenly we find we’re out of sync. The world changed without asking our permission!
In Sync, or Out of Sync?
How do we know when we’re out of alignment with what’s really going on? Behaviors that surprise us are one indicator. There’s plenty of that lately, from the unpredicted surge in popularity of Donald Trump, to the emergence of #OscarsSoWhite, to refugees desperately fleeing to Europe and North America. What do most of us do when surprised like this? We vent our opinions loudly and at length, particularly to those who agree with us. This may relieve our frustration, or bond us to our peeps, but we don’t actually learn anything. A friend of mine used to call this “recreational complaining”. If there’s something that’s truly surprising to you, then there’s something going on you don’t understand.
Make it your business to get curious and find out what’s really going on in the world. Try to suspend your own judgment just long enough to ask new questions, or talk with new people. Exercise your compassion by looking around for who is hurting and not being heard. Have the courage to see if there is an elephant in the room; an issue that’s been there so long we no longer see it or are in despair of ever changing it.
What about when your own behavior surprises you? Words that just pop out of your mouth, often to your regret but sometimes to your delight. Or people’s responses to you that take you aback. Or actions that have an unexpected quality of fatigue, push, irritation or grace to them. It’s too easy to shrug it off; “that’s just the way I am.”
Make it your business to get curious about your inner world. Mindful attention is one way of developing this self-awareness.
Mindfulness is not a tuning out or self-soothing activity, although it can definitely help to calm you down. Properly understood, mindfulness helps you tune in to what is really going on at a non-obvious, subtle level. With other people, this can mean suspending your own views long enough to listen deeply; not just to what is being said but how, to what is not being said, to body language. With yourself, this means being aware of the ongoing thought voices in your head. You know; the inner self-critic, or the one who always finds someone else to blame (that last would be me!) Or the feelings in your body that won’t go away; like the ever present tension or slight fog of fatigue. It takes a spirit of curiosity to look inside. Then comes courage, because you might not like what you see. And finally a light touch of compassion, because we’re all a little bit mixed up, but – now you know! When you can look at the hidden opinions and assumptions that you were formerly looking through, you have a chance to try something different. To make a leap of choice.
Make the Leap To Self-Awareness and Other-Awareness
Which is where this picture of delicate, new-forming snowflakes comes in. Emerging in haphazard clumps, they reach out to each other across the void of a small stream. Depending on conditions – a few degrees either way makes a big difference – they may or may not become a clump of snow. Our choices always involve a leap. Leaps taken with curiosity, courage and compassion. Leaps of resolve – to pursue our better intentions. Leaps of faith – as we can never truly predict what will happen. But when we are more in sync with what is truly going on in our inner and outer worlds, the odds are perhaps a little bit better.
Happy Leap Day!