Thursday, 17 April 2014

Neutrality - the Unsung Superpower

It is human nature to get angry. We find ourselves filling with frustration and before we know it the sparks are flying. A little irritation can easily become a conflagration, but we have more power than we think to keep the fire from starting. How? By cultivating neutrality.

Neutrality, as I'm describing it, is the decision to take a mental step to one side and just observe what's happening. It's akin to taking the car out of gear and putting it into neutral while taking a split second to decide what action to take.

I remember well the first time I was able to do this consciously. I was scrutinising the contents of the refrigerator when my son, who was about two-years-old at the time, toddled up to me in tears of frustration. My normal response in this situation was to get as frustrated (and then angry) as he was because I felt unable to decipher what he needed or wanted. It was an all-too typical scenario: frustrated/tired/angry child mirrored by a frustrated/tired/angry mom.

But this time, for no particular reason, something was different. I looked down at my boy and knew that I could either be irritated by his neediness or compassionate. I knelt down on the floor so that we were eye to eye and opened my arms to him. He fell in, sobbing. I was soon in tears myself as I realised how easily I could have gotten angry with him for “interrupting” my task of figuring out what to have for dinner. We had a cuddle until we both felt better and then he went off to play while I prepared to cook.

Experiencing the power of staying neutral was thrilling – like discovering a super power I didn't know I had.  It was a seismic shift from my normal reactiveness, and from that day forward I began to connect more and more regularly with this “neutral space."  I often feel as if I'm “standing beside myself” observing the action and waiting to see what will happen. I can't always do it, particularly if I'm in a foul mood myself, but, like exercising a muscle, the ability gets stronger with repetition.

My son is now 11, and when he is angry or frustrated and directing it at me (especially while doing his homework!) I am usually able to hold my centre and let him feel what he's feeling until it passes. No fighting; no retaliation. Even if it means taking a few insults on the chin, he always apologises once he comes back to his senses, and our bond is stronger than ever.

The next time you feel the heat rising in you, try taking a moment to let it wash over you while holding your centre. It may help to imagine you are like sea kelp anchored to the ocean floor: emotions are waves; the waves gently sway you but do not have the strength to uproot you.  If you can do it even once, the vicious cycle of anger/reaction can be broken.  It may not beat flying, but it's a pretty cool superpower to cultivate.  

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