Before, During and After

Before, During and After

We are supposed to be the higher animal. The non-reactive ones. The ones that can rise above ourselves, pause and make rational adjustments for the betterment of self, others and our relationships. I know I forget this evolutionary perk at times. My monkey-brain takes over and I am two shakes from the jungle. I might as well be swinging from trees.

Psychological maturity requires the development of what is known as the second consciousness. Instead of reactively firing off, we practice intentionality. We make an actual conscious choice to be relational, calm and moderated.

How do we cultivate this higher capacity? Through observation, curiosity, risk and repetition over time. Like going to the gym, we build new emotional muscle memory. What once was automated gets unlearned and a new neural pathway grooves the now norm. More specifically, we can meet this challenge in three places – after, during and before, from easiest to hardest.

After. This is the “ah ha” moment after the fact. Might be a moment later, an hour later, a week later or even longer. “You know, honey, I messed up last week. I … when I really should have …. I am so sorry. In the future, I really want to ….” The not-so-helpful deed has been done and cast but at least we can recognize it, own it and commit to more relational behaviors in the future.

During. A bit harder to do. This action means catching ourselves mid-stream. “Oh my gosh. There I go again. Let me redo.” We then back-up, pull a U-turn and start again. Hopefully, our partner is gracious enough to mark the first try a strike-out and give us another turn at bat.

Before. The hardest to pull off. Before I react, I pause. I stop. I choose behavior and words that are respectful of you, me and our relationship. If I can’t do this, I breathe and wait until I can. Much easier to prevent than to take back. A hallmark of psychological sophistication.

Monkey or human being? I say we choose the latter. It’s the path of psychological progress.

Taking a Knee

My daughter started playing soccer as a little tike, long before there were actual positions. The young girls swarmed the ball like bees to a honeycomb. Plus, they were so pleasant to each other. They took seriously their manners taught. Aggression had yet to surface as an acceptable option come game time.

Despite the tentativeness, injuries did happen. And when they did, every girl took a knee. “Player down!” the ref would yell and as on cue, every player dropped to …the ground to wait. To wait till the player was checked on, attended to and either carted off the field for a Band-Aid or gained her stamina enough to get back in the game.

I love this ritual. Although my daughter is older now and soccer more sophisticated (they actually play positions and sneak a mean elbow now and again), they still maintain the civility of “take a knee.” Despite the competition, every player is cared for. If one is down, they all go down. At least until the injured player can rejoin the action.

I have begun to think how we really should add this practice to the playbook of relationships. If one player is down, the other one stops in his/her tracks and takes a knee. All action is temporarily postponed so that we can attend to the injured party. Because, we are a team and thus, we must work as a team to get our partner back in the game. Whole and healthy, ready for more action.

So, when your partner is emotionally dysregulated (upset), frustrated or injured, take a knee. Call time. Ask him or her what you can do to help. What do they need from you right now? Now is not the time to shout at the referee. Or argue the facts of the play. Or even look at game tape. None of that matters right now. What matters is that your partner knows you have their back. That you are taking a knee as act of love, as a sign of solidarity.

If my daughter continues to play soccer, the game is only going to get more brutal. It will be all out war with mounting injuries. Despite this acceleration of intensity, I hope they never stop taking a knee when a teammate goes down. For indeed, everyone counts in the lineup.

May we all be fortunate enough to both be a generous team player and to have a generous teammate. You might want to purchase some knee pads while you’re at it. You’re gonna need them.

My Non-Green Thumb

I should just give up and buy the fake ones. They do such a good job these days making them look real, substituting authenticity. But, I like the idea of having live plants, growing green things in my office. The organic exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Energy moving and flowing around me while I sit with stories of life gone wrong. I just wish I had the necessary green thumb to go with my grand plan of this ideal healing environment.

Mind you, one of my plants is thriving. The small one on the windowsill that is outgrowing its pot. I have carted that hardy thing around three different offices. Now that we have settled in for a while, I think it’s finally hitting its stride. It beams with delight towards the sun as if to say, “I am finally happy! Give me more of this stuff. It’s all good.” But his buddy next to him, well, not so much. I think he’s on his last leg. I really should just raise the white flag and replace the poor soul. Get him out of his misery. Let him move on to the grand nursery in the sky.

I promise, I treat all my plants the same. They get the same watering every Friday before I leave for the weekend. They both get the same harsh pruning as called for. They both get a talking to when I am in the mood and no one is looking. I even bought some of that blue fertilizer shit, thinking that would really make them perky. Nevertheless, same treatment, different response. One is growing while one is dying.

In reflecting on my office’s greenery, I could not help but also think of the human life that comes and goes in this exact room. Some folks settle in and absorb all the nutrients needed to grow and thrive. Some even get so big, a new pot becomes necessary. But others, scuffle along, half in and half out, not really sure that growth is something they want to do. They are unsure that flowering is even possible. And then there are those determined few that are committed to dying, Miracle Grow be damned. Same treatment, different response. Some I can cultivate and flourish while some, I sadly just cannot.

I’m liking this metaphor. Perhaps I should keep the dying plant around as a conversation starter, a concrete picture of our options. Nah. Sounds a little harsh. Instead, knowing me, I will choose love over fear, hope over death, green leaves over brown ones, life over lifelessness.

So, I will go plant shopping. I sure wish I could purchase a green thumb alongside, one that guaranteed success. But such mechanics do not exist. I am stuck being human, growing human beings, where some will thrive and some will not. I guess will have to make peace with my prospects.