“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.” –Francis Bacon
Just this week, at the beginning of a 2-hour journey in the dark, my headlights decided to develop a gremlin. I hadn’t driven in the dark for some time, and with the subtle change in seasons occurring I noticed that it is pretty much dark at 8pm. This surprised me a little on my journey. I became aware of a slight nervousness, and yet I have obviously driven in the dark hundreds of times in my life. Maybe the long break from evening darkness over the Summer had just put me out of practice and it seemed strange somehow.
On top of this my headlights decided to stick on full beam. Not good of course, but I needed to get home.
Obviously, I was not happy about dazzling oncoming drivers. I noticed the amount of guilt that manifested in me. I felt anxious and this manifested as a tightness in my abdomen. I could feel my heart rate rising.
The next ninety minutes became a mindfulness practice in its own right, when I began to see ‘what was happening while it was happening’. Being aware of this, I consciously added – ‘whatever it is’. Yes, my preference was to not dazzle or annoy other drivers. Yes, my preference was for my lights to not have broken, as this will necessitate a visit to the garage – and hey, with Covid, nothing is as straightforward as it once was is it? And, yes, I didn’t want to feel anxious.
So, I brought in my practice of becoming aware of everything unfolding and arising just as it is, with an openness and curiosity as to the experience in that moment. As I deepened my breath a little and brought awareness to my breath, which was tightly up in my throat (an old pre-mindfulness habit of holding my breath when I get stressed), I noticed it settle and drop into my abdomen. I immediately felt calmer.
At that point I recognised that there was nothing I could do about the situation, even though the flashes from oncoming drivers was increasing all the time. It had become an opportunity to fully engage with mindfulness.
I held compassion for the oncoming drivers who were clearly irritated by my dazzling lights! I also held compassion for myself for having to go through this experience and cause discomfort to others.
I became mindful of how each flash of the oncoming drivers’ headlights at me made me feel.
What actually became more interesting was the behaviour of the other drivers and I started to take note of their reactions.
About 20% did nothing at all. Another 20% did a courteous one flash of their headlights to alert me that mine were on full beam. What I found extraordinary, was that 60% of the drivers just put their lights on full beam in retaliation. Justice needed to be done. It’s a small gauge in an impromptu experiment, but I was saddened by the fact that 60% of drivers were so irritated by my lights, that they had no sense of reason or compassion as to why this might be the case. And as a result, they wanted to punish me and deliberately cause me discomfort in return.
When I got home, I looked into the psychology of retaliation!
In our mindfulness training we become aware of times when we are subject to those projecting their unhealed emotions on us, just as we become aware of our habits and behaviours where we might project emotions onto others. All this is in an attempt to make the other person feel bad for having wronged us, and in theory, alleviating ourselves of the suffering. It’s as if we are trying to get rid of it.
However, this actually has the opposite effect, even though the first moments might feel rewarding, it actually exacerbates how bad we felt in the first place.
Retaliation re-opens and intensifies old emotional wounds and what can happen is that we subconsciously blame ourselves for not being able to free ourselves from these old behaviours. Ultimately, we fall into the ‘trance of unworthiness’.
Mindfulness training provides us with the opportunity to notice what triggers unhealed emotions and therefore, once we see it, we have a choice to change our reaction. The three-minute breathing space, taught in our Level 1 Mindfulness Training, is enough to help us see it and respond rather than react to a situation. By responding with compassion we can see that it isn’t our fault our minds work in this way and that we have the opportunity to change.
Frank Sinatra once said that “The best revenge is massive success.” I’m not sure I agree as this buys into the need for justice in some way. However, it could be that need to retaliate may be a motivation to do something different. Maybe it could be the motivating force behind training in mindfulness.
I invite you to become aware of moments when you feel like seeking revenge or that justice needs to be done. Notice how it feels in your body. Spend a few moments focussing on your breath. Become aware of how this feels.
I’d love to hear your comments or feedback so please do leave a comment after this post or write to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacky is running a new course – Finding Stillness in Movement – with Mindfulness and Qigong starting 6thOctober. Find out more here.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.