This Polish proverb I came across on Pinterest, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” became my mantra over the last few weeks of January. To me, it meant: I did not create this situation, therefore I will not take on the negativity derived from it, nor spend my energy trying to put out its fires. Immersed in a negative environment, it was essential to me that I hold strong boundaries to keep the negativity from settling inside me. Not only is it extraordinarily easy to take on others' negative energy, it's also easy to fall into the pattern of constantly expending time and effort to mitigate the damage.
During yoga training this past weekend, we explored this idea further through our discussion of breath work, or pranayama. Through our breath, our energy, even our heartbeats, we're connected to the life around us. If that sounds a little hippy-trippy for you, think about it this way: when a barista is rude while serving your coffee, do you think of sharp comebacks or reprimands for their service? Why not accept that this person may be having a bad day, and continue to be kind and courteous in response? In every situation, we retain control over our own behavior. If my first thought is to snap back in an “I'll show her” kind of way, I only feed the negativity. Whereas if I simply maintain my courtesy or even go so far as to wish the barista a better day, I've cut off the spread of negativity, and added some light into the situation.
Energy waves are palpable. The human heart creates a magnetic field with every beat that can be detected beyond the boundaries of the body. The significance of this fact increases with the knowledge that heart rhythms change according to one's emotional state. Negative people can drag down everyone around them. Likewise, however, upbeat people can lift everyone's mood. Though it's easy to fall in with someone else's negative energy, the fact remains that you have control over your own breath and your own body. And thank goodness that's true. No matter the situation- work, family holidays, household accounting, whatever- our breath is our own. Returning to your own breath to calm your body has a myriad of positive outcomes. Your mind feels more calm because it's actually firing different neurons when stressed. Your body can let go of its physiological fight or flight status, and operate normally: digesting well, eliminating toxins, sending oxygen to all cells. It's certainly not always an easy choice (which is why it's called a “practice”), but we can choose not to ride other people's negative energy waves.
For me, not riding the negative wave meant releasing the need to “win” the battle. I took the steps I needed to in an attempt to follow my own conscience and guard my energy. In the end, I didn't prove to the other party I was right. I didn't change anybody's mind to see my way. Someone else made the final call, and it wasn't the way I wanted it to go. But you know what? I don't need to win. I don't need to fight. I don't need to fan the flame of drama. Being right is not as important as being calm, centered, and sane. I didn't get my way, but I still have my health, my sanity, my breath. What's even better is letting go of the situation entirely. I can recount the situation to my loved ones, whom I'd like to keep informed, but it feels so much better to stop talking about it, to never revisit the subject and move on to happier topics. When you relive situations or recount experiences, your body reacts as though you're actually experiencing the same thing again. Try this: envision very clearly picking up a piece of lemon candy, unwrapping it, then placing the candy in your mouth. Feel the tartness spread over your tongue. Now tell me: did your lips actually pucker? Similarly, to continue recounting that awful thing your boss/mom/friend/acquaintance said to you is to relive the experience, sending all the same stress hormones into your body, putting yourself on edge over and over again. Instead, let go and refuse to dragged along.
It's not your circus, so stop letting the monkeys invade your life.