This morning I got a text from a neighbor. It was a thoughtful expression of concern around whether we were staying within the social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines.
At first, I did not read it like that. Although it did seem to me that my neighbor was being thoughtful with her words, I interpreted some of her words like a mild attack. My defenses got provoked.
I responded in kind and let her know that we are following the social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, but I was still a little caught up. My ego was still feeling a little attacked and righteous.
“We are in this together” I texted. Although I think I was reminding myself, more than I was reminding her.
A few moments later, as my hackles on the back of my neck relaxed, and my ego quieted, I could see how thoughtful her text really was. I could see that she is scared and wanting to keep her family safe and healthy.
I could also see that the delivery really does not matter. Whether she screamed at me (which she did not), or blanketed her text with a dozen heart and smiley emojis (she added 2) is insignificant. We interpret what we see based on our state of mind, not on reality or truth.
What we experience, and then how we respond, is always determined by our perception of the situation. And our perception is pretty narrow when we feel attacked.
You see, we have this reptilian brain that is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, and freezing up. Oh, and fornication.
The reptilian brain is part of your subconscious mind and its main role is to make sure you stay alive and spread your genes. It knows no compassion and it operates by dominating others (lest you will be dominated by them). It gets triggered easily, and can’t tell the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat.
Hence, my reptilian brain got a little triggered when I read my neighbor’s text.
Fortunately, I have been developing awareness around this trigger for years thanks in part to many of my teachers over the years.
I’d like to say that my reptilian brain does not get triggered anymore, but that would be a big fat lie. I can say that I am more aware of it. I am aware of the feeling it creates. I feel contracted, tight, and I know my thinking is not clear.
When our reptilian brain is triggered, our thinking gets cloudy. We feel separate. We get insecure. We lose trust and experience doubt. We get judgmental and defensive and will often try to dominate. Yes me too. It is just part of how the system operates. Yet the more that I see that all these experiences are coming from that part of me that is trying to keep me safe, the more compassion I have, for myself and others. Because I know we all are trying to stay safe. We ARE all in this together.
Every human being gets caught in their reptilian thinking. It is our nature. And I know that when my thinking settles I come back to feeling connection, understanding, curiosity, and compassion. We are designed to feel connected always, as long as our thinking is not triggered.
So for me, I practice pausing and reminding myself that my first perception, from triggered thinking, is never accurate.
Yet when I open the aperture of my mind, I see that even fear is an expression of love. We are afraid to lose those we love and hold dear and sometimes love gets expressed through cloudy, fearful and insecure thinking. Yet it is still an expression of love.
So today, on day number 19 of shelter-in-place, I am practicing seeing that all actions and reactions; all defensiveness and judgmentalness, all behaviors to control or dominate, and all complaining and protecting… are all expressions of love, just hidden through a cloud of insecure reptilian thinking. When I let my own insecure thinking settle. I see love disguised as fear, and I feel love and understanding.
Although we might demonstrate our fears and insecurities in different ways, everything is an expression of love.