Between Stimulus and Response there is a Space. In that Space lies our Power to Choose our Response. In our Power to choose Lies our Growth and our growth and our freedom.
- Victor Frankel
The rocks were glowing hot as my son brought them in the sweat lodge one at a time with a pitchfork. The leader of the ceremony took the rocks with a set of elk antlers and set them in the small pit dug into the middle of the lodge which held the glowing hot lava rocks or “grandfathers”. My son was the fire tender for this ancient and traditional Native American ceremony and I had helped him the last few hours collecting wood and building a large fire just outside the lodge and carefully placing 32 volcanic rocks in the fire at the four cardinal directions in the traditional manner of the Cherokee tradition.
Like most lodges, this sweat lodge was made of a frame of tree saplings and branches and was completely covered with a tarp and blankets with only a small portal that we had to crawl through to get into the lodge. The lodge itself was about five feet high and about 20 feet in diameter and could fit around twenty or more people. Today there were only a few of us and we were sitting around the central pit holding the glowing rocks. We had four “rounds” where my son would bring in numerous rocks before he closed the portal to the lodge leaving us in pitch black darkness lit only by the glowing rocks. The leader sang traditional prayers to the spirits and poured water from a buffalo horn over the rocks creating steam and heat in the small space. We went deep within as we prayed, burned sage and other sacred medicine plants during the prayers and followed the leader in singing the traditional songs.
At different times in the ceremony, we shared deeply personal issues we were working on in our lives and we asked the spirits for guidance and support for our healing process for ourselves, our loved ones and the world. The sweat lodge in the way of Native American spirituality has been practiced for thousands of years in the tribal cultures. While I have been through many similar ceremonies, this particular ceremony was special to me because I got to help my son with tending the fire and we got to participate in each other’s healing process.
The rituals of any religion or spiritual path all create a sacred emotional, mental and spiritual space designed to open people’s minds to their connection to the Whole and see our connection to all of life beyond our individual perspective. These rituals and traditions can help us to free our minds from our experience of the isolation of our individual ego awareness. Whatever your religion or belief system, it comes down to the same thing; we are all connected to the whole and we are all a part of something greater than ourselves.
It is important to address our differences and challenges, but first recognizing our essential connection and our common humanity is essential to healthy communication and relationships. When we forget our common humanity and our common cause in working together to resolve our conflicts, then we can resort to bigotry and hatred to settle our differences and this never works out well. Whether we are impacted by the recent attacks in Virginia, or by any number of events of aggression and hatred in our past, remembering our common humanity rather than blaming others helps us to stand for what we believe and address our differences with clarity, wisdom and powerful action that can make a positive difference. We can have accountability for our actions with each other without blaming each other. In fact, the blame game only decreases accountability because people become afraid of owning accountability for their actions when they think they will be blamed for owning up to their problems.
This principle also applies in our personal lives and relationships. When you are in conflict with your spouse, family, friends or others, or if you have differences of opinion with a person or a group of people, remembering to address issues with respect and consideration rather than resorting to blame or criticism always works better in the end. Any short term gains you think you may benefit through blaming and criticizing others never lasts and will ultimately harm your cause and creating an environment of accountability for our actions does not require blame, shame or degrading other people or ourselves. Will you act based on your wisdom and good judgement and respond to the needs of the situation, or will you blindly react to other’s negativity and ultimately make the problem worse?
All humans just want to love and be loved. Our essence is love even if we may often forget this and act in hurtful ways. When we see beyond our ego perspective, there opens up another point of view that we are all just different aspects of the One experiencing itself from different points of view. Just as the trillions of cells in the human body all have their own individual tasks to do in the body, each cell is a part of the whole and the body needs all the individual cells to function properly for the body to function well. From this perspective of unity or of the interconnectedness of all humanity, there is only One of us here because in a very real way we are all a part of a larger connected whole.
Whenever you are in conflict with another person, group or ideology, the following steps can be helpful in addressing problems in a more effective and helpful manner.
1. Self-Reflect: Self-reflect on your own fears that get triggered in the conflict.
a. Realize that your emotional issues are triggered by the situation, but your feelings are not caused by any external situation. Your your response to any situation is ultimately your choice and your response will ultimately determine your feelings.
b. The basic question here is do you allow your thoughts, feelings and responses to be determined by the pressures of external situations, or will you be responsive to external events based on your internal compass?
2. Center: Release your fear-based thinking and center yourself on the truth of your nature as a loving human being.
a. Feel a sense of love and positive empowerment within yourself first.
b. Remember the truth of love that is your nature and feel goodness within you before you react to any situation.
3. Make Good Choices
a. Don’t let your fears run your life or hijack your decision making process. Once you get your mind straight first, then you will be able to make better choices. When you are upset and your fears are triggered then you will make poor choices.
b. If your fears didn’t cloud your judgement, how would you respond to the situation to produce the most effective outcome and create the most productive result possible?
c. If you were acting from the truth of your loving nature, them how would you respond to this issue in your life? Love and codependence are not the same thing, and often love is tough love. What would the most loving response look like in your current situation?