Nothing Personal

Jeff and I often refer, in conversation with each other, to our tool bags. I wish I could say I was the type to wield a power drill with ease or that I know what a monkey wrench actually is, but these are not the types of tools we are generally referring to anyway. Ours are the invisible kind that we sometimes forget we even have. The kind we try to remember to reach for when challenges come up, as they inevitably do. Miscommunications, toe stubbings, the feeling of running late, unease with the state of the world, or simply feeling off - these things and feelings happen, and though there’s only so much I can do to keep them from happening in the first place, how I respond to them is always up to me.

Oh my, that last statement can be a little tough to chew if taken too fast or on it’s own. How I respond is up to me, huh? Yes, well, I think so. And though the weight of that responsibility can be heavy, it’s also empowering. For instance, when I realized that I didn’t have to become a menace the moment I felt hungry and couldn’t immediately remedy the issue, it was like a whole world of possibility opened right up. Ring the gong...what? I have a choice?!

Growing up, getting irritable when I was hungry was the norm. It was modeled for me, and I bought the whole outfit as if it were tailor made for yours truly. Was it easy breaking the habit? Not gonna lie - it was not. BUT, the first step was in recognizing what was really going on. Just by realizing that I had a choice, I was able to see what was happening in real time. Now, when I’m hungry or am otherwise potentially triggered, I can usually catch it before it gets to full blown fury (feel free to envision me as a female version of the Hulk here), and make the choice to be OK with what is. Sometimes, that means reframing the situation in my mind. In the hangry case, I might say to myself, “Feeling hungry is uncomfortable, and it reminds me to be grateful for the incredible abundance of food I have available to me nearly all the time. There are so many people and animals who don’t have that luxury. It’s helping me feel compassion for others.” In that way, I’ve been able to create a new neural trail in my brain, steering me away from the old path. The more I walk it, the better worn it becomes, making it easier and easier to choose, each time it happens.

Now, back to that tool bag idea. We’ve got some amazing teachers to help fill our bags so that when we’re faced with issues and are reaching to find the right thing to help us out, we don’t come up empty handed. One such teacher that I am a big fan of is Don Miguel Ruiz. I read his book, The Four Agreements, a long time ago, but the things I learned from it support me to this day.

One of the agreements is, “Don’t take anything personally.” Shoot, another toughie! Really? Nothing? Yup! I can’t (and won’t try to) pass on the incredible knowledge from Ruiz’s book as well as he does, but I can think of some pretty good examples to help illustrate the idea.

Just yesterday, I read something that really had me feeling for the people involved, especially since I am a mama to a three and a half year old. It was a post by a woman who had taken care of her four year old niece earlier that day. She was exhausted and hurt because her niece had acted out a lot, seemingly for no reason. The child had said things that aimed to hurt her aunt whenever she’d said anything the girl didn’t like. An example included telling the aunt she couldn’t come to her birthday party after she’d advised the child to stay out of the street. Should the aunt have taken the child’s behavior personally? Did the way the child was acting really have anything to do with the aunt? I believe the answer to the latter to be no, that the little girl was lashing out because of something inside, not because the aunt was attempting to keep her safe. How the aunt responded, however, was up to her. With a tool like the agreement not to take things personally in her back pocket, the aunt might not have felt so exhausted, or even hurt. With her own big feelings out of the way, she might’ve been able to maintain a sense of compassion for the struggling 4 year old, and striven to understand, or at least hold space for, whatever the underlying issue might have been.

This is not to say that I have perfected this art - it is so much easier said than done! I do know that when I remember to reach for this tool, it is always there for me.

A big, and often recurring, example from my own life is in my relationship with Jeff, my husband of seven years. Phew, do we have some communication challenges?! A biggie is when one of us has done or said something that triggers the other, and the triggered tries to talk it out with the trigger-er. Still following? Let’s dig up a for real life scenario to illustrate.

Something that helps me feel loved is when I feel thought of. I feel cared for when Jeff remembers and honors my little preferences. With that in mind, I’ll share a little thing that could’ve ended in some big hurt feelings and, quite possibly, an even bigger row.

Let me tell you about our utensils. Yes, I’m referring to those things we eat with. Awhile back, I’d noticed that we had lost some of our smaller forks and spoons, so I bought some random replacements. This might sound silly to you, but those additions became the bane of my dining experience. They dig into the sides of my fingers. They fall off the sides of the plates, careening to the floor, leaving it smattered from here to the walls with sticky and/or vibrantly colored sauces meant to be savored, not sponged. Plus, they’re ugly. I have no idea now why or how I chose the awful things, but I just can’t bring myself to replace them. I'm passively punishing myself for having wasted precious resources - the Earth’s, our money - on things I can’t stand.

Okay, you catch my drift.

I have expressed multiple times to my sweet, loving husband that I’d prefer to use one of the few remaining original pieces of cutlery we own, even if I have to hand wash them. Jeff needs reminding. Often. Now, being a person who, like I’ve mentioned, likes to be thought of, I often have a story going on in my head that goes a little something like this: “I have told him so many times that I don’t like those forks and spoons! He just doesn’t care about me or my feelings. Hmph.” Fortunately, I have spent a little time noticing that I do tell myself stories like these on occasion, and they are usually not bent on helping me feel better, nor do they particularly facilitate a peaceful co-habitating existence! “So,” Mr. Ruiz enquires, “what kind of story can you tell yourself in which you don’t take Jeff’s actions personally?” Oh yeah, my tools! I can reframe it like this, “Jeff and I think differently, and I know by now that the little details are simply not his forte. I appreciate all the many things he does that show me, in his way, that I am cared for…” Ah, that’s better.

Something Jeff and I have observed and talked about is that not taking things personally frees up a lot of energy. Hurt feelings, being exhausted, having arguments...each is such a waste! That energy can be put toward creating a life filled with love, compassion, personal growth, giving to others in whatever ways we have to give...truly living a life that matters.

Personally yours,

Lauren, MATR cushions & accessories co-founder

Jeff Stephanoff