A few days ago I had a “confrontation” with my husband that led to an exciting discovery.  (It was not our first “run in”, and surely not the last, but it was transformative — certainly for me, and also for us… The chance to look at myself from the outside was most illuminating!)
What was the discovery?  One way to put it is that I discovered that it matters a lot which vehicle I am driving:  is it a race car, or a surrey with fringe on top!
What do I mean by these automotive references and what difference does my “discovery” make?  Here’s the skinny.  Mike came in to read me a selection from Altruism, a book by Mathieu Ricard, the remarkable French monk with a Dalai Lama connection.  In his book Ricard explores the roots of generosity, altruism, openness to strangers, and the opposite traits: aggression, defensiveness, xenophobia, quickness to attack.  Ricard concludes that these traits are significantly more “nurture”, i.e. can be learned and changed, rather than “nature”, inborn and constant.  He cites examples of where various settlers are from, and what was important to them.  Sheepherders needed to protect their flocks, and strangers were more likely a threat; while farmers needed help, people couldn’t steal land the way they could livestock, and strangers could be friends.  Cool, eh?
Well, I was very excited by the ideas, the discovery.  I love it when research highlights how we can grow and learn and change, that we can shift our beliefs and behaviours to become more tolerant, curious, inclusive.  What the world needs now, for sure!
I turned around from my puttering in the kitchen, faced Mike, and summarized what I had understood, for myself, because it is so interesting, and to see if I had understood what he was reading.  I was energized, my voice was excited, my body language intense, quick and frequent hand gestures, animated facial expression, the whole bit.  Mike leaned back and pulled away.  And since I’ve been paying attention to my stress level, the ways in which I contract and tighten, he mentioned that to him, I looked rigid, stressed, and it sounded aggressive, and like I was trying to “make a case”, like I was right, and he was wrong.
Discovery: which car mattersWell, he was wrong, but not in the way he meant. I was actually agreeing with him all the way, I was not contradicting, attacking, or being aggressive.  The discovery (and it has huge implications for me, maybe my health and longevity, stroke prevention, and certainly for my interactions with people who have different styles from mine), is that when I was talking to Mike, it felt like I was driving a race car.  Fast, focussed, intent, efficient, even driven… one could say, pun intended!  I was intense,  but not aggressive, or attacking.  Fast, but not furious 🙂
Happily, I had the notion to try it a second time.  I leaned back against the stove, crossed my legs casually, took a breath, slowed down, and did the same thing: summarized what I had heard.  This time with a calm tone of voice, relaxed posture, face, pace.  It was as though I was driving a surrey with fringe on top, out for an easy ride!  Mike said, Discovery: surrey with fringe“Now, I can listen to that.”
I also realized later that in the surrey, I have many more “chunks”, as they say in NLP — space available in my consciousness to pay attention.  In the race car, all my attention was focussed on driving. In the surrey, I could be aware of myself, the Ground of Being, my surroundings, be fully Present.
It really was a different universe.  The car analogy doesn’t do justice to the difference in my experience, or his.  I could really feel how in the surrey I was grounded, at ease, not invested in any outcome, open, relaxed.
Driving a race car is fun, for a 7 on the Enneagram, and the focus and intensity is not unpleasant for me.  Still, I did make the discovery that in the race car mode, there is a perceptible level of stress; I am not at ease, open, let alone relaxed.  And while I was not being aggressive, trying to make a case or prove anything, I could, from the relaxed perspective in the surrey, see that it could indeed seem that way to someone whose style was different from mine (e.g. Mike, and others!), and feel intimidating or pushy.  Race car driver!  Hmmmm.  Important discovery indeed.
I do want to be more relaxed, at ease, softer.  At least more often, if not always, (I like my energetic self, and there is a time and a place for that, and people for whom it is not a problem… who match and enjoy this style.)  Still, I want to be more attune to the comfort level and field in the room, to be able to adapt and change to what works well in the moment.  So it was a transformative eye opener.  I am pleased to say that I’ve caught myself several times in the last few days, climbing into the race car, getting back out and choosing the surrey 🙂  From Confrontation to Transformation!
Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Your feedback, forwards, tweets, likes are most welcome. 
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