A Way to Transcend Upsetting Situations

Many years ago, my teenage son and I got into an argument. He got defensive and uppity, I got intrusive and sarcastic. I ended the conversation by slamming his bedroom door behind me.

At times like that, I can feel myself wanting to keep up a wall between me and the other person. I wanted to keep making my son wrong. I wanted to see everything wrong about him.

Then I remembered E-Squared (or E2). E2 will increase your impact on the person you’re talking to — it’ll add a subtle, relaxed quality to your demeanor that will help the other person feel at ease in your presence. And you’ll like what it does for you even more. You become calm and at ease and you get a strong feeling of standing on solid ground. I call it E2 for experienced experience.

As each moment goes by, you and I have an ongoing stream of experience — lots of sights, thoughts, sounds, feelings, smells — but we don’t register much of it consciously. And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that for the most part. But sometimes it’s pretty useful to register your experience consciously. One of those times is when you feel uncomfortable or when you’re upset with someone and you think you’re going to lose your cool. Another might be when you’re giving a speech and you feel like running away or when you’re telling someone something they don’t want to hear.

At times like those, pay attention to your physical experience. Experience your experience. Feel all the different sensations in your body. When you’re feeling powerful emotions, there’s a lot to pay attention to; emotions are complex; they move through your body producing physical sensations in many different places in your body, in sequence. Pay attention to those.

And while you’re paying attention to your physical sensations, you’ll notice certain muscles — in your back, in your face, in your shoulders — have contracted and held the contraction. You’ll probably notice lots of sensation in your solar plexus region. Pay attention to everything — your body posture, the expression on your face, the light coming into the room, the sounds around you. Notice your breathing, feel your feet on the floor. Be there.

Simple? Sure. Obvious? Absolutely. It is nothing more than experiencing something that you are already experiencing. What could be easier? But sometimes we don’t want to experience our experience, and it’s times like those you have to do it consciously and deliberately. Otherwise you will tend to act out those negative feelings or do something in an attempt to avoid feeling those feelings — something you’ll regret later.

So I took a deep breath, relaxed, and for a moment I paid attention to my ongoing experience: I noticed my body posture, the expression on my face, the different sensations in my body, the feel of the air on my skin, etc. Then I went back, a changed man, and talked to my son. Those few moments I took to E2 altered me. They stopped me from reacting — defending and attacking — and allowed me to start fresh. I went back to his room and apologized for slamming the door and explained myself as best I could. I was completely calm and had no edge in my voice. He listened. He knew he’d made a mistake but I had nailed him so hard, he didn’t want to admit it before. We ended the conversation with no hard feelings.

E2 is an act of will. It’s not a thought. It’s not a physical action. It’s a change of heart. Instead of running, you stand and feel. Instead of wanting to hide, you open yourself up. Instead of cowering inside, you pay attention and relax.

Try it. Try it any time you feel like pulling away or shrinking back. Stand firm. Breath deep. Relax your tensions. And feel.

This is a chapter from Principles for Personal Growth.

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