I just spent 10 days in the South of France. I have been going to France all my life as many Brits do – but it’s just a bit more of a trek to organize it now, since I live in the US.
My brother and his family left a few days before me & I was surprised that my Dad was taking my brother’s family in his car, while my brother was leaving separately in the rental car. Last summer, my dad told me, something rather unpleasant happened at the airport.
When my brother and his family got on the bus that takes you from the terminal to the rental car location, a mum and dad got on the bus & the driver shut the door, leaving their young kids (about 6 & 8 years-old) and all their suitcases on the sidewalk, alone.
Everyone on the bus was shouting at the driver to stop, but he said “no, the bus is full,” and continued the 10-minute journey. Apparently the French people on the bus yelled at him, telling him that he was giving a terrible impression of their country and please stop, but he did not.
The next evening my mum and my three kids went to meet an old friend of mine and her family in a local village for supper. We had tried to make a reservation at the best Trip Advisor restaurant, but he wouldn’t take reservations. We arrived and went to the restaurant and asked if we could have a table.
“We have no space tonight – all the tables are reserved.” Oh, I said, my, father called earlier and you said you didn’t take reservations. “Well, your father clearly can not speak French, if he had spoken to me, the manager, I would have reserved him a table.” My father is fluent in French, so this was clearly rubbish. I found myself slipping into a “the French are rude,” “no wonder immigrants in this country feel so unwelcome” etc mindset.
I knew I had to STOP THIS THINKING. This is wildly unhelpful for all of us. Categorizing a whole country based on a few negative experiences is not useful – it’s prejudiced and beyond the fact that it can lead to the creation of the in-group/out-group thinking and dehumanizing, on a personal level it creates generalized irritation & discomfort which colors our interactions & our world.
So, how can we step back?
- Notice the irritation in your mind-body. Is your heart beating faster? Is your mouth dry? Is your breath shallow? Start by exhaling slowly and deeply. Exhaling activates the rest & digest part of the nervous system, whereas inhaling stimulates the fight/flight system.
- Do something different – my friend (who happens to be a phenomenal elementary school teacher) could see that I was getting irritated and directed my attention elsewhere, to our kids, to the water, to finding a different restaurant. Essentially she was helping me let go of the past and move on.
- Are you chilled out? Have you calmed the fuck down? Okay, now you’re ready for this one: Do not make assumptions – you don’t know what other people are going through. Avoid generalizing from one experience. This intellectualizing of the experience is only helpful after you’re calm.
Why do we want to limit this kind of negative thinking?
Well, you see, what you think, you say, what you say, you do and what you do is who you become. So, the earlier in that chain you can stop the process, the better! Got it? It’s soooo hard, I know, but as you’ll always hear me say, from the words of the old masters, practice and all will come.
Don’t let ONE negative action: color your whole view of someone, a group or your day and experience.
Copyright Tamsin Astor, YogaBrained LLC 2016.