As author and psychotherapist, Melissa Groman, points out, the acting on one’s perceptions can spell trouble when those perceptions aren’t based on real events or circumstances. Simply waiting can be a handy rule to follow, a rule that can offer dramatically improved outcomes.
A teacher walks into his classroom of third graders; he’s a few minutes late. He’s already in a bit of a mood, feeling annoyed with himself that he’s late. He wants to get the class going. As he’s walking in, one of his students holds his left arm straight up. With the index finger of the other hand, he’s pointing to his wristwatch as he stares straight at the teacher.
Fuming, the teacher goes to the front of the classroom; steam is coming out his ears. He is not interested in rebuke from this kid, and he’s certainly not interested in having his lateness pointed out.
He is going to pull this kid out, he thinks. He is going to yank him out of the classroom, let him know who should be doing the reprimanding, give him a good loud message that everyone will hear, and then send him to the principal’s office. He will not put up with this kind of blatant disrespect from a student. Things today have gone too far this morning … way too far.
The 30-Minute Rule
He then remembers his own private rule. It’s a rule he has promised himself to follow, no matter what. He will wait. He will wait 30 minutes … no matter what … in any given situation short of a fire or similar emergency. He will not react or respond to anything or anyone when he is in this state; no words or actions for 30 minutes … no matter what.
As he works to ignore the offending student, the teacher opens his lesson book and tells the students to get out their math books. He teaches the lesson, gives the kids a short break, and then turns his attention to the boy with the watch, who is now running up to his desk. Before he can get a word out, the boy says with utter sincerity and a shinning face:
Look, Mr. Adams, my father got me a new watch for my birthday! I couldn’t wait to show it to you!
Willing to wait?
Sometimes what we think, what we believe to be true in the moment, and what we see with our own eyes, is not what is really happening. What a different world we might live in if with we were more open to this notion, open to working with our minds and paying attention to our thoughts and perceptions. We really don’t know sometimes what is actually going on. Even when we are calm, even when we are sure, are we always certain? It’s not that we can’t trust ourselves; it’s that we have to know ourselves and know how thought works.
We have to be willing to wait. We need the assistance of time to consider the power of thought, of perception, of speech, and of our actions.
So much of our suffering is based on perception, yet our perception can be reworked. Yes, we need to honor all of our thoughts and feelings, and use them as guideposts to our needs and our desires as they propel us forward. But if we don’t slow down and sort out some of that thinking, if we get too wrapped up in what we think we know, we may be missing out on a whole new world both inside and out. In doing so, we could act on our old stories, follow through on our unexamined perceptions and, unfortunately, set into motion so many unintended events.
We hear so much these days about mindfulness and meditation and awareness, but are we willing to be curious about how our minds work and to more fully understand how what we think has the power to create or to destroy, to stir or to calm?
There is natural human flow of thought through us at all times. Perhaps we have little say in how many of those thoughts come to us, but we do have a say in how we examine them, and if we believe them or not. We have a say if we act on them or not. We have a say regarding how conscious and aware we are willing to be.
Melissa Groman’s trademark warmth, sensitivity and profound understanding of human nature permeate her work. She has more than 25 years of experience helping people live healthy, satisfying lives. Although she maintains a busy private practice, Melissa writes regularly for a number of magazines, websites and blogs. [website]