I recently heard from a friend on FaceBook whose New Year wish was to ‘Pay it Forward’ to a number of his work colleagues. If you watched the movie, Pay It Forward , or read the novel of the same name, you will recall the goodwill movement set up by an 11-year old boy, Trevor McKinney.
Trevor’s plan is a charitable program based on the networking of good deeds. He calls his plan pay it forward, which means the recipient of a favor does a favor for three others rather than paying the favor back. However, it needs to be a major favor that the recipient cannot complete themselves.
I was struck with my friend’s idea, as I got on with my day. It started off well enough, but after a visit to a particular shop with my family, we received some cold stares from the shop attendant as we left empty-handed. Thinking nothing of it, I found myself in the ensuing 30 minutes feeling very strange: my light mood had left me, and instead I felt fearful, panicky, intensely angry & in desperate need of escape somewhere, to be alone. My children behaved with equally uncharacteristic aggression when we returned home.
The following day, after a meeting with a friend, I found myself using the time to stroll back home by musing on some grudge and resentment from around Christmas-time. The scenery all around me was gorgeous, the day beautifully sunny & clear, the birds, animals & nature around me singing & alive with joy & activity – yet I was lost in my thoughts, and in the delightful drama of imagining myself verbally goring the person for not agreeing with my point-of-view… At home, my family were ready to go out on a walk themselves…all of a sudden, in raced a neighbour’s dog through the front door, uninvited: my young children are scared of him because he’s big & wild and knocks them over in his playful excitement at having escaped entrapment (one that never seems to promise any exercise, as far as I can see). Following the shrieks and hysterical cries of my children, and the dog’s removal, I went to have it out with the neighbour, located a few doors down the street. This was the second time it had happened recently, and my children were scared to walk out anywhere alone – on a cul-de-sac which is safe & secure enough for them to play anywhere, under normal conditions. My neighbour’s response was predictable enough, these days: a torrent of verbal abuse involving only one non-expletive according to memory, which sounded like “dog”. There’s nothing much one can say after this kind of monologue which has any real meaning, other than joining in – which I didn’t want to do. It was so fast & furious, I was left feeling dizzy & reeling from the intensity of the experience: which world was I in? I didn’t recognise or fully register what happened, only that it didn’t feel good. And that my physical body wanted to go get and a baseball bat from somewhere..
The ensuing walk through beautiful oak woods left me feeling normal again, only after the constant stream of imagined angry rantings in my head eventually dissipated. The experience brought up something I really want to share. I call it simply, ‘Pay it Sideways‘.
It is something we all do, no matter who we are, in an everyday way – during everyday encounters & experiences. Being around people all the time, it’s hard to avoid it: somewhere along the line there is going to be an experience we don’t like. And when we don’t like something, we tend to judge it. Paying it Sideways refers to all those (invariably) unconscious judgments we make about experiences & other people. They begin to mount up after an initial encounter that knocks us off-centre. An impatient driver may have cut us up at a junction; our partner may have pressed one of those emotional pain-buttons we try desperately to hide from everyone; a shopkeeper or barista may have given us a cold, curt reception; a threatening letter from a utility company may have disturbed the early morning blissful caffeine moment.. And with this first wave of disappointments & judgements, our day’s tone is set – and we pay it sideways continuously, without realising it. We shout at the kids, or at our partner; we cut someone up & make a lewd gesture in the process; we demonstrate impatience & curt, coldness in our outer dealings at work or on the street; we talk angrily about experiences to others in gossip, passing judgements left, right & centre… All of the bile, the frustration, the anger, the liverish spleen we feel inside of us spews out – and before we know it, we need a drink or a smoke or drugs or sex: something to take the edge off of the tension & harshness we have created in our day, yet determinedly blame on others & the world around us.
Paying it Sideways would actually be ‘paying it backwards’ if only we were fully conscious of what exactly it is we’re paying, and to whom: but all those little things we do, usually in our thoughts (& subsequently through our emotions) – they’re the ones to look out for. And it’s only when they come back to us, in bright neon lights, staring us right in the face through an experience or encounter, that we can see the manifestation of our thoughts as pure creation. I created this experience, utterly and completely, I can say. Just by doing that thing I always do…you know, the one where I delight in the imagined drama of judging someone else’s behaviour, and what I would then say, and how I would act.. And how they would at the final moment shamefacedly say, “You’re right”. Yeah, all of those feelings & thoughts – none of which apply to the immediate moment, or to reality in general: yet they still create & control what occurs in life, exactly as if they were real.
My father passed away a few years ago, and it was liver cancer that finally gave him the opportunity to release his body’s hold on the world. We hold onto life, as is entirely natural, through our physical bodies. His own mother, two decades or so before him, died of exactly the same condition. Louise L. Hay, in her influential book You Can Heal Your Life, sites liver conditions as being entirely anger-based in origin. If one doesn’t find a healthy, life-affirming way of releasing this strong emotion, then the liver – already so hard-working – gets hit hard. This is in my blood. And not just on my paternal side: I usually find our chosen partners are a perfect match when it comes to those underlying focal points much in need of attention. Whereas on one side of my family inheritance a person may experience feelings of anger & seethe inwardly suppressing it – on the other side, they may express it openly, outwardly, with force & lack of restraint. Having lived with both, inside of me, all of my life, I know neither way works. Neither is the path, either to happiness or to peace. Anger is what it is: an emotional response to the feeling you’re not getting what you want in a particular situation; to the consequent feeling of perceived powerlessness, and victimhood. It is the tool of the powerless, the dis-empowered.
Anger is what it is: an emotional response to the feeling you’re not getting what you want in a particular situation; to the consequent feeling of perceived powerlessness, and victimhood. It is the tool of the powerless, the dis-empowered.
It is creative fire & energy inappropriately focused: since, as I have experienced to my own cost, wherever it is focused, it is always active & inappropriate, painful in its consequences & in what it manifests, whether through liver cancer or as a fight with a neighbour. Indeed, there is no difference in my mind between such behaviours as frustration, impatience, curtness, coldness, and direct anger & rage. The one is simply the passive version of the other, withheld somewhat, simply because the fear of releasing it is greater. Released anger, at least, negates that fear – at least for a moment, it feels good. Until the guilt sets in that is, and creates a whole load more of it, ready to pulverise the next unhappy, innocent recipient. Yet, somehow, when one stares in dis-belief at someone losing it, why do they always only look two feet tall?
I use the word innocent advisedly here. Since I believe there is no one else to blame for what happens to us; and if we blame ourselves in turn, we only remain stuck in a cycle of separation – both from our true selves, and from the true nature of relationship: which is to show our Selves, with unfailing honesty and clarity, what our thoughts, emotions & behaviour are manifesting in the world.
I believe this kind of truth sets us free. The knowledge that we can, at any moment, change what’s going on in our lives & all around us. I’m certainly not used to attracting angry people in my life any more: I used to, all the time. And now, when I do, I know it was entirely down to my own thoughts & actions…such as those unhappy, self-indulgent thoughts I enjoyed for a moment back on that walk – rather than simply letting the issue go with a smile, while enjoying the beauty all around me. Ah, that would be too easy! Inner Peace doesn’t create any drama or excitement these days, my unconscious mind thinks! Well, I got the clearest indication, within that briefest moment of verbal abuse, of exactly the quality of emotion my thoughts were engendering out in the world. And I didn’t like it one bit, so I changed it. I can’t blame the shop attendant for passing on his own passive anger to us the previous day, and that it remained with us longer afterwards: for all I know, he may be working through exactly the same liver-lessons as I, genetically-speaking. And in which case, I sincerely wish him all the best. I find it hard enough, each and every day. But at least I know that I can do something about it. And that’s why I wanted to share this experience with you.
So, if you’re reading this and wondering about paying it sideways, try simply… Letting Go. Paying It No Attention! That’s the best way of all, I find. Because that way, your earth footprint is light, as in the movie Avatar. The earth, and the world around us, doesn’t need any more anger, hatred, rage, frustration, impatience, fear – all borne of feeling powerless. Feel power-full today, and thank yourself for the good feeling that follows. That way, you’re Paying It Big-Time!