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A Reflection on Conflict



While I am not sure of the source of this quote, it has stuck with me for many years: “In most conflicts, the other person is not the problem.” While there are some cases where there is clearly a perpetrator and a victim, most of the time, the problem resides within oneself.

Last Thanksgiving, I had a clash with an extended family member. (Would it be an interesting sociology experiment to determine how many skirmishes occur during family reunions?). I am not sure if there was any resolution or deeper understanding when it was over, but it did allow me to use the opportunity for self-reflection. 

The idea that the “other” person is the issue is usually created from the Ego mind. In yoga, the “Ego” mind is the source of suffering for us or others. To dissolve this Ego mind, we continually draw our attention back to our own thoughts, emotions, sensations and conditioned patterns.Taking responsibility for our own issues could be the most sane and helpful approach to living in our world today. The stronger the resistance to doing our own inner work or the desire to point fingers, the stronger the Ego mind likely is.

The first question I asked myself was, “Where was I being triggered?” In psychology and disciplines that study the nature of the mind, there is the recognition of emotional triggers. If someone is reacting with intensity or reactivity in a given situation, it is possible that the conflict has very little to do with the current scene, but rather a reminder of something from the past which has created some high-level stress or even trauma. Being on the lookout for triggers is a super skillful technique in building relationships. 

The second question I asked myself was, “Did I remain calm and grounded?” One of the direct carry overs from yoga to our everyday lives, is the ability to stay grounded when the world around us feels unsafe, unsupported or foreign. A few years back, one of my students told me that when he starts to feel conflict coming on with his girlfriend, he concentrates on the feeling of his feet beneath him and he is amazed at how the feeling of rooted-ness could help to diffuse negative feelings. Feeling your feet or sitting bones if you are sitting can become a practical tool to staying connected within yourself.

The third area of reflection for me was to witness the pause. The pause can sometimes mean the difference between wreckage and healing. Pause gives us time. Time gives us insight. Insight gives us freedom; and freedom brings the ability to choose a better way of being. 

The pause will enable us the ability to witness during the conflict and offer tremendous support. Witnessing your intentions throughout the exchange will allow for reflection on your own needs for growth and transformation. Are you interested in greater understanding or a shift in perspective? Can you notice any feelings of wanting to win or be right? The pause enables us to check out any thoughts of judgment, agendas or biasing. These reactions might hinder deep listening, empathy or the ability to sleep at night.

The Ego mind will sometimes choose the path of least resistance and play the blame game.  This is much easier than turning the light of awareness back to our own humanity and vulnerability. Looking at our own thoughts, sensations and feelings may require self-acceptance and maybe even forgiveness. As difficult as this route is, it is the only one that will cultivate vitality and inner peace. At the end of the day, we can tell ourselves lots of “stories” about the other person. The story that is most useful and true is the story that you tell yourself about you.

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