January 5 - The Experience Of Your Life

A few years ago it was suggested that I write a book exploring some of the ten thousand justifications I had heard from clients over the years about why they decided to engage in their “favorite” addictive habit...just “one” more time! For example, among those I heard were, “I just got fired,” or “I just got hired,” or “No one ever wants to be with me,” or “They just won’t leave me alone,” or “I don’t have anything to do,” or “I never have a free moment to relax!”

It became quite obvious that revisiting the addictive substance or habit really was not about the circumstances themselves but instead about how one chose to experience those circumstances.

Far too often, however, we feel that it is the circumstances themselves that actually create our experience of life. We feel that if a person does “x” then we must feel or do “y” or that if “a” happens we automatically must respond with “b”. We forget that different people react differently to the same set of circumstances all of the time. If you think that someone else’s anger or sadness or inability to communicate can “make” you take a drink (eat a doughnut, pop a pill, etc.), then you are just like a puppet giving that someone control over your life. There are many, many ways to react to situations. The key is in being aware that the choice of a reaction is yours and that your choice determines your experience of your life.

If we ignore our own power and mistakenly believe that others have the power to create our lives, we often will find ourselves reaching for an addictive substance to change our mood or perception of our experience. This does not even begin to provide the satisfaction we are seeking. The answer lies instead in learning how to see more of a situation than we have yet been taught to see.

I remember with fondness a situation at my office many years ago. The physician with whom I shared the office and I were offering a women’s evening of developmental conversation. A participant called us and said she could not find our building. She started screaming at me that my directions were horrible and that no one could have possibly have known what they meant.

In that flash of a moment, I truly had a choice to make a decision that would determine my experience of this circumstance of my life. I could easily have opted to go into a defensive pattern, telling her that one hundred and five other women had found their way and had already arrived, using the same directions! But this would have just added to what I perceived her feelings were…of being lost and incompetent. Or I could pause, set my childhood reaction of fear about making a mistake aside, step into my adult shoes of making a difference, and reach out to her with kindness and appreciation.

Thankfully, I chose the latter, and I said with absolute sincerity that I was so sorry that the directions had been confusing for her, and I would appreciate it if she would come speak with me when she arrived. At the same time I requested that she point out what was difficult to understand so that her experience would help us make our directions better in the future and, as a result, others would not have to suffer as she did. I let her know her experience would make a positive difference for others, rather than involve any kind of punishment or humiliation (which her huge reaction to being late suggested she might be anticipating).

When she arrived, she was all smiles and even had written her suggestion down on a piece of paper for me while she had been stopped at a red light. She and I became great allies. 

Many would have thought her reaction had the power to determine my next action…that it would “make” me respond angrily. Instead, thankfully, I knew that it did not, that I was the only person with the ability to determine my experience of this circumstance in my life. And, thankfully, I knew that the experience I wanted to have was one that included curiosity and reverence for her and others…and that is exactly what I decided to do.

Think about a recent experience you have had that was not particularly enjoyable and how you could have handled it differently, particularly how you could have made your experience of it truly more pleasurable. With a bit of practice here, you will never feel the need to artificially alter your perception of an experience again!

How do you generally experience the circumstances of your life? Are you frustrated and flustered…or are you centered and peaceful? Are you often critical and judgmental, or do you focus on being curious and compassionate? Do you seek artificial power over your life through addictive habits, or do you exert your true power and genuinely create the experience of your life?


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