One day, late for a meeting in midtown Manhattan, I was looking for a shortcut. So I walked into an indoor atrium on the ground floor of a skyscraper, planning to use an exit door I had spotted on the other side that would give me a faster route through the block.
But as soon as I reached the building's lobby, with its banks of elevators, a uniformed guard stormed over to me, waving his arms and yelling, "You can't walk through here!"
"Why not?" I asked, puzzled.
"Private property! It's private property!" he shouted, visibly agitated.
I seemed to have inadvertently intruded into an unmarked security zone. "It would help," I suggested in a shaky attempt to infuse a bit of reasoning, "if there were a sign on the door saying 'Do Not Enter.' "
My remark made him even angrier. "Get out! Get out!" he screamed.
Unsettled, I hastily beat my retreat, his anger reverberating in my own gut for the next several blocks.
When someone dumps their toxic feelings on us – explodes in anger or threats, shows disgust or contempt–they activate in us circuitry for those very same distressing emotions. Their act has potent neurological consequences: emotions are contagious. We "catch" strong emotions much as we do a rhinovirus – and so can come down with the emotional equivalent of a cold.
Every interaction has an emotional subtext. Along with whatever else we are doing, we can make each other feel a little better, or even a lot better, or a little worse – or a lot worse, as happened to me. Beyond what transpires in the moment, we can retain a mood that stays with us long after the direct encounter ends – an emotional afterglow (or afterglower, in my case).
These tacit transactions drive what amounts to an emotional economy, the net inner gains and losses we experience with a given person, or in a given conversation, or on any given day. By evening the net balance of feelings we have exchanged largely determines what kind of day – "good" or "bad" – we feel we've had.
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you transcend the emotional economy to make the emotions you entertain a decision and not a reactive choice? How do we gain the awareness and equanimity to avoid catching the "rhinovirus"? Can you share a personal story of transcending the emotional economy?
well what i feel is this: a reactive choice is a pattern or habit and although i cannot see what is happening on the quantum level, I have a choice about how i will respond or not respond, if i am in a place of awareness.....and in that there is freedom.
In the beginning i was unconscious of this choice and suffered. Now if i am aware....and this is more often than previously ....i can see that the other person is acting in his pattern/habbit....according to his past experiences, cultural education etc.
So when we can create a few seconds of space between such an event and our response, we can choose HOW we respond. We don't have to accept their gift of negativity. They may offer it but we don't have to accept.
I think that catching strong emotions, assuggested in the above story is a habit. It doesn't mean I don't feel the negativity, I would much rather experience positivity but I see it for what it is, a puff of smoke really, just passing by, like everything else, and i don't have to add anything to it from my side.
I can see now why the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" may have come into being. They only have the power we give them.
We can choose to disempower ourselves, if that's we really want!
Hanging on causes me discomfort. I think the saints call this attachment.
Maybe I'm finally getting it!