Yesterday I had a short interaction with someone in which they got out of their car and asked me to please not bump my shopping cart against their paint job. We were on a slight hill; I needed to stabilize my cart while I dug around for my bags and empty jars to take into the food co-op. I was conscious of using their car as a stop and I remember putting my cart there without bumping or scraping. “Oh I said I was trying to be cautious” and they replied” well you bumped it twice”. I was so uncomfortable I don’t even remember if I said sorry or what I said next if anything. Puzzling on what happened I figured I unawares bumped my car door against theirs as I was wrestling stuff out of my back seat. They were nice enough, calmly giving me the information without being rude. Yet I felt stung, blamed for being oblivious to others concerns. This was even a person I have met at some community events, did they not want to recognize me or just didn’t? I was too ashamed to recover, connect and use their name to apologize. I just walked away feeling icky.
In the store began to notice I felt I had to work hard to do everything right, not bumble or spill or misplace anything. I’m a caring person; I don’t want anyone else to think I am irresponsible. This background anxiety made me feel small and ineffective and misunderstood. Not wanting to berate myself, I tried to just get over it,” let it go, no big deal, quit acting like a scolded kid”. Yet this is a kind of berating, in other words, “what’s wrong with me?”
I wondered “now, what are my options?” The feelings were bigger than the encounter, shame and self-deprecation; clearly these are old feelings informing my thoughts. Thoughts in response to body sensations, flushed and prickly; tense shoulders, breath holding, narrowing visual field, difficulty focusing on the task at hand. “So what can I do?” I often turn to big movement or vibrating and shaking to self-regulate. I didn’t want to do this in the store, “can’t I just be a grown up and get over it?” I could find a bathroom stall to shake in. I thought; “really is it that bad?” (more self-criticism).
Instead I invite my breath to fill me to the edges of my body boundary. Noticing my safe and whole me, protected from the larger world by my body surfaces. Now what pleasant smells can I find? Unlike other sensory input our sense of smell is directly routed to the hippocampus where memory is processed. I find the herb and spice section and discover a jar of rose petals, I take three long slow inhales through my left nostril. As our most primitive sense smell in the left nostril simply connects to left brain and vise a versa. (See smell this) Oh that is nice. I experience some muscle release.
As I continue shopping I’m thinking about it all, perception, processing, how we can be hijacked by old emotional realities. I am thinking about it, not thinking about what was said and how bad I feel. Later on my way home I notice that the shameful feelings had gone and remembering them was just interesting; not a triggering of the old uncomfortable me that I hate to be with. I stimulated a physiological shift creating ability to connect to my heart, compassion and empathy. This I know, if we can take care of the body’s need to process, integration will follow.