Be Unrushed.

Quite often the place we least want to be is where we currently are. This is, in part, because we are thinking about what we need to do in the future. If whatever is happening right now could just end, we could get on with things. This is a treadmill scenario, common in our default mode. 

The result is a disservice to the present moment. Whatever we are doing, or whoever we are with, will not receive our complete attention, so long as we feel we have something else to do. It doesn’t take long to see that this is an unfree way of being. We are shackled by the future – by things that haven’t yet occurred – to the detriment of the only thing we do have; our present experience. 

The feeling of some urgent demand on our time – real or perceived – creates tension in our relationships. It raises fraught questions including, “Whose time is more important?” or, “Why don’t they respect my time?” The concept of time autonomy is central here. One person’s autonomy quickly abuts another’s. Anyone who has ever been left waiting for someone else understands the anxiety and ill will that pervades. 

To be sure, there are scenarios when true urgency arises, when one must be fussed about moving on to other matters: medical triage, a child in trouble, danger lurking. But these are not our usual state. To free ourselves, to embrace the present, we need to be aware of the divide between things that quickly demand our attention, and everything else. Most often, the ‘everything else’ can wait. We don’t have to rush headlong into whatever just so happened to surface in our consciousness. The present moment deserves our attention. There is beauty within it that is easily missed. 

In exercising our time autonomy, however, we must not expect others to bend to our will. Simply because we decided to focus on something does not mean that someone else need do the same, let alone share the same level of caring. That is up to them. Just as we demand respect from others on how we choose to spend our time, so too should we respect their choice. This lesson comes home to roost for parents. 

Young children don’t understand this concept. They want things to happen right now, demanding their parents to drop everything and buy in. Parents are then confronted with a challenge, weighing whether the child’s demands are reasonable, realistic, urgent, versus whether they should supersede the parent’s own interests in the moment. Not an easy decision, and one many of us have fumbled countless times. Within this, though, there is an opportunity to learn and to teach. Being honest with ourselves and with others, along with open communication, will go a long way. 

Every day presents us with challenges like this. We overcome them and we grow. But we are best able to do so by heeding the present moment with the slowness it requires. We must do our best, in whatever we find ourselves doing, to be unrushed. 

Be well.

Sorry. Not sorry.

Has someone ever demanded an apology from you? Have you demanded one from someone else? Have you refused to forgive someone?

I am willing to bet you have experienced all three. You’re not alone. But, the way most of us think about apologies and forgiveness is wrong.

Apologies and forgiveness are not for the person receiving them, they are for the one issuing them. How can this be so when your experience indicates that it feels good to receive an apology, and that it feels especially good, to your guilty conscience, to be forgiven? The problem is the narrative that for you to feel better, someone else must do something. Since the actions of others are outside of your control, this sets you up for conflict and unnecessary suffering.

When a transgression occurs, it cannot un-occur. Something happened, someone got hurt. Both parties feel bad, but for different reasons. If the transgressor feels guilty or ashamed, they may tell themselves they cannot shed these negative emotions until they are forgiven. Depending on the nature and magnitude of the transgression, they could be waiting a long while. Conversely, the hurt party may feel justified in carrying anger and resentment until they hear the almighty, “I’m sorry.” Until then, they shall keep their assailant locked securely in a shame cage. This strategy perpetuates suffering for both.

Worse yet, if someone believes they are entitled to an apology, and goes so far as to demand one, they will either receive a begrudgingly insincere version, or none at all. They have layered on the egocentric accelerant of pride to the smouldering conflict.

How do you avoid unnecessarily prolonging the pain in these situations? First, accept that no matter what you think, say, or do, you do not control the perceptions or responses of others. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Do not make your feelings contingent upon what another person says or does. This is much harder to enact than it sounds, but is a crucial step toward overall well-being, as you navigate relationships.

An apology means taking responsibility for your actions and their outcomes. Everything you do potentially impacts others, intentionally or not. You must be aware of and accept this. By owning your actions, you can sincerely issue the, “I’m sorry,” which is an empathic expression of regret. Apologizing, when you haven’t taken responsibility or don’t feel the other party is justifiably hurt, is no apology at all. It is an insincere placation meant to protect your own ego. Finally, by insightfully learning from your experiences, the apology will naturally extend to thoughts of how to prevent this outcome from happening again.

This is a constructive and positive approach. You cannot change what happened, nor should you dwell on its negative impact. Instead you should own it and turn your sights to bettering the future. This approach does not, however, guarantee a positive response from your counterpart. How should they respond?

When someone wrongs you, the best response is to forgive them as soon as possible. Do not mire yourself in how things could or should have gone differently. It’s done! You certainly should not wait for an apology, let alone demand one. How self-indulgent that would be. Instead, take stock of what happened and how this might change the course of the future relationship with this person. Consider intent, magnitude of the damage, and the relationship’s relative importance. Interestingly it seems most difficult to forgive those closest. Higher stakes, I suppose.

Nevertheless, as with our apologizer, you ought to be future-oriented. Move on from this event, with or without an apology in hand. This allows ridding yourself of unnecessary negative emotions. This is so even for the most minor transgressions. Through forgiveness, you give yourself permission to move on. The result of this choice liberates you to stay present, inwardly unscathed, outwardly strong and accepting. This choice, however, will come neither easily nor naturally. Reciprocity is the default when harmed, but it can be overcome.

Keep this philosophy in mind the next time you find yourself on either end of an incident where an apology or forgiveness are on order. Given the complexities of our relationships with others, it won’t be long!

Be well.