A friend was recently having a hard day. He had just found out that his dad needed surgery and that he would be responsible for months of aftercare. In communicating his frustration via text, he made a comment that sparked an emotional reaction in me. I reacted with such immediacy that it surprised me. It was clear to me that I was not responding to the circumstances in his life but reacting to something in mine. I saw myself in that moment. Where was I? Was I even engaged with what he was communicating? I wasn’t.
When I looked at what was bothering me, I saw I was upset from an earlier conversation with my mother. I had a wish to be available for my friend, and yet I was caught in my thoughts of past and future. I took a breath and wrote something that I thought expressed sympathy, but I saw that I was still in an emotionally reactive place. Then I put the phone down and just sat there for a moment. I remembered my aim was to be present, and to live my life consciously.
It became clear that I was not available to engage with him in that moment, so I decided to go for a walk. It took some time before my anxiety quieted down. I wished to experience my body walking—each foot taking the next step—and each inhalation and exhalation. I began to relax and really enjoy myself. As I walked, my attitude towards everything began to shift. Life didn’t seem so small, confined, and centered on me; instead life was about relationships, about how everything engages and interacts with everything else. For that moment, I felt supported and was available to support another person.
When I returned home I attempted to write him again. There was a genuine desire for his well-being as I read what he had written and saw my response. Instantly new words came. It felt right to apologize, take responsibility for my reaction, and then send him the wish that his current circumstances wouldn’t bring him too much stress. The interaction was authentic and sincere. I was grateful that he shared such a personal moment with me and that I could actually be available to respond.
This experience helped me to see how I’m constantly living my life on autopilot. There are so few moments in my day where I actually know that I am alive and engaged with another human being. Who knows how much hurt, confusion, and fear I create around me by my unconscious reactions to the unfolding events in my life. But in one moment of remembering to breathe and connect to the body, there is an enormous opportunity to change the direction of my life—from being lost in passive reaction to having the wish to nurture life.