The Butterfly Effect

You may have heard of this before; in chaos theory where one small change causes much more dramatic changes further down the line. In simple terms, where an action causes ripple effects that go on and on. There is a brilliant little book, of the same name, I read that introduced the theory, by Andy Andrews. He gives some brilliant and utterly surprising examples of the butterfly effect in action. If something so tiny hadn’t happened, something so huge would not have occurred. The tiny flap of a butterfly’s wings could cause a typhoon on the other side of the world.

You could then look at this in many ways. If you were able to choose to go back and eradicate seemingly negative events or experiences from your life, would you? Most people could probably think of a few things they wish they hadn’t experienced and could erase from their lives. However, in doing that there are so many other things that wouldn’t be in your life right now had it not been for those experiences, let alone the infinite number of things that your’ event or experience caused for others. So you can see that these experiences we have in our lives not only affect what happens further down the line for us, but for others, our environment and who knows humanity and the world at large too. The book explains some of those gargantuan types of examples.

These days, when I am going through something that would from the outside be perceived as negative, I try to see it differently. It is just so – not good or bad, just simply as it is. That isn’t to say I don’t suffer through it – all humans suffer, that’s part of what makes us human. However, looking at experiences through a different lens, one where I am accepting of what is, means that I am not interfering with what is meant to be – the butterfly effect. It also makes you see that we are as we were originally born to be, part of a bigger whole that works in complete harmony, perfectly well without our interference. Often times our suffering comes from trying to change what is, from going against the grain or seeking to control what is out of our control.

This way of living, where you accept and let go, surrender to each moment and experience what is happening isn’t giving up. In fact it is more about actually being present in your life as it unfolds, to witness and experience each day fully, rather than being in a constant state of worrying or feeling anxious about what is happening and what you can (or can’t) do about it. When you live that way you spend your time either ruminating over the past or being fearful of what is coming. You miss the present moment entirely and that’s where you life is. That’s where your life matters, right now, in the moment, this moment, creating those tiny ripples or the small flapping of wings that spread far and wide….trust that and be present.

“By your hand, millions – billions of lives will be altered, caught up in a chain of events begun by you on this day.”

– Andy Andrews from the Butterfly Effect

[Image – years ago, when I first began writing, I wrote a series of stories called Rainbow of Love and this image was used for the story around the colour blue; Blue Butterflies…]

The actions of others

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” Dr Seuss

When it comes to emotional mastery one of the most difficult skills to learn is in dealing with the actions, behaviour and intentions of others. The short and sweet of it is, as you are probably already aware, in understanding and more importantly, accepting, that we cannot control the intentions of others. We can only control our response and affect our own intentions. The complexity begins when you put that into practice.

Think of times during your day when the actions, behaviour or intentions of others affect you. Quite a lot I imagine. From your kids, spouse and friends, to your work colleagues and total strangers you come into contact with. There are days when maybe you don’t really interact with many people and days when you no doubt interact with lots. Consider the times when someone does something that really irritates or annoys you. Perhaps strong emotion surges within you before you’ve had time to think. There are so many variables to this. You could be feeling super happy one day and the person who cuts in front of you driving doesn’t affect you, but the next day it might – and that’s a simple example!

When you have a regular meditation practice and you practise mindfulness, you will begin to notice space. I’m not talking physical space here, although it can feel that way, but more space, silence if you like, around your own actions and your interactions with others. It’s as though there is extra time just slotted in here and there. The reality is of course, it was there all along, you just didn’t notice it. This space allows you to stop, just for a moment, and consider your own actions and to think for just a second. When this happens and you are feeling strong emotion towards what someone has said or done, it enables you to see that you are not in control of that. You can only control your response to it. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t made you feel upset, angry or whatever emotion has surged within you, but truly, to ask yourself, what is the benefit in displaying that emotion towards them.

When you experience this often, you will also begin to see that not everyone is self aware. Now this isn’t to say that those who are self aware are enlightened humans who can rise above any such trivia and let everything go. What it is saying is that if you do not have a level of self awareness you will be blissfully UNAWARE of your actions, behaviour or intentions on others. Is this selfish, ignorant? You might think so. I say it is neither good or bad, it just is.

Most people live ‘unconsciously’ and operate on autopilot; simply playing out the same patterns of behaviour, responding to situations in the same way they always have. These people can only perhaps see life from their own perspective. As you increase your level of self awareness you begin to see that everyone has their own perspective and when you truly realise this, you can feel more empathy towards others. You can see that if their actions aren’t kind or particularly thoughtful, that’s not necessarily because they are intentionally trying to upset others; they are just coming from their own perspective, their own place. This dulls the effect they have on you and enables acceptance, which leads you to decide (in that space) how you respond, or not. I mean often the best thing is simply to smile and be silent.

It’s like a light being switched on. Suddenly you can see clearly that lots of people you interact with on a daily basis are unaware of the impact of their actions, behaviour and intentions on people around them. With meditation and mindfulness you can work on increasing self awareness that enables you to dodge these situations in as much as not being affected by them. Often I find that situations are more diffused because you have not responded to them. On a work front the interaction be in emails, which have to be one of the biggest forms of miscommunication we deal with everyday. It is so easy to fire that email back when truly, did we really understand what the other person meant, or even if they meant what we think they meant, do we really need to respond to that in a way that just fuels fire with fire?

As human beings one of our biggest flaws is that we think everything is about us. So when someone says or does something that you take complete offence to, just think about their perspective too. They may indeed be completely ‘wrong’ with their facts or perception, but they might also just have found out some awful news or be having a massively bad day. Who knows why people act the way they act. You can’t possibly know everything, right? You can, however, (thank goodness!) control your own actions, your own behaviour and intentions. When you strive to live your life in this way, you will show kindness and compassion to others. You don’t need to be a push over or be walked all over. You can just choose to step out of the way and let the situation go by you without event. You can choose not to let the rising emotion take over your body causing you to react in a way that you will later regret. You might choose to respond but it will be in a more mindful way and one that is thoughtful of the other person’s perception or standpoint.

So when you are next faced, later today, tomorrow or the next day, with someone who is evoking negative emotion within you, look out for that space and allow yourself just a moment to consider your response. When you observe something, what you are observing will change. There will be a shift. In his beautiful book, ‘The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down’, Haemin Sunim said,

“People say hurtful things because they themselves have been hurt. When you encounter someone prickly or malicious, think about what kind of miserable situation he must be in. If he is too much, and you don’t have time, just whisper, ‘bless you’ and move on.”

You can choose kindness and if I know one thing to be true. It is always better to be kind than it is to be right.

 

The lovely insightful image today is from best selling author Karen Salmansohn’s site Not  Salmon, self help for people who would not be caught dead doing self help.