What is it about conflict that feels so unsettling, so scary, so overwhelming and so confusing?
There is a sense of uncertainty that conflict brings with it. Conflict challenges our beliefs, expectations (of ourselves and other people) and the illusion of control we carry through life. All of these make up our story. A story that seems so near and dear to us, it feels as though it is us. Thus, conflict challenges the very essence of what we believe we are.
When challenged in such a way, it becomes nearly impossible to respond to conflict instead of reacting to it. And, we react with fear, aggression or denial, trying our best to cling to every shred of our story, believing that losing our story is equivalent to losing us.
What separates reaction to conflict from response to it is clarity. Clarity is the expression of the ever-present peace in us; the peace of knowing that even if our story was different, or not there at all, we would still be here. We experience this space as we disengage from our story and before we have an opportunity to create and attach to a new one. In this space there is a shift that occurs – instead of focus on what we believe did happen or should happen, we focus on what is happening, accepting the reality of the present moment.
A gateway to connecting with clarity in conflict is the four-step process of Dis-Solving Conflict from Within.
The first step is to set aside the trigger. Focus on the trigger is about reacting to conflict. Such focus only increases the sense of fear, overwhelm and despair. Clarity can never arise from focus on the outside, on the things we have no power to control.
The second step is to spot the story we are telling ourselves about the conflict experience. We spot it by identifying the first thought (whatever it might be) arising within us about the conflict experience. At first, we do not try to impact this thought in any way, allowing the experience of the thought to fully engulf us. We then spell out in our mind the words that make up the thought, or if the thought arises as an image, manipulating it by making it bigger or smaller. Our ability to experience the thought as either words or an image presents the first indication that the thought (the story) is not us.
In the third step we connect with the present moment. What is happening in this moment, right here and right now? Can we handle this moment with that story arising? Is the story really a threat to us right now?
Finally, in the fourth step we connect with our bodies’ experience of conflict. We are not concerned with labeling or analyzing, but just feeling the visceral sensations that the conflict is bringing in us. Whatever is arising is valid and complete in itself. It requires no fixing, loving or even allowing. It is simply what is happening in our bodies this very moment.
Setting aside the trigger; spotting our story in conflict; seeing it as just words or an image; realizing that it is not a threat to us in this very moment; and viscerally experiencing the physical expressions of the story challenges the very essence of the conflict experience – that our story is us. When we realize that our story is not us and that a challenge to the story that conflict presents, is not an existential threat to us, clarity effortlessly arises, allowing us to respond to conflict instead of reacting to it.
Going through the four-step process (especially more than once) also allows us to experience multiple layers of the story we carry. Whereas the initial thought that arises might be that our partner has hurt our feelings, the story underneath that may be that we are not deserving of love or respect. As we go through and repeat the four-step process we are able to experience deeper and deeper layers of our story, challenging our perception that each layer of the story is actually us. By challenging this perception regarding our deepest held beliefs, perceptions, conditioning and judgments we empower ourselves to address the root causes of our suffering in conflict – our deep attachment to our story and confusion between our story and who we are. In other words, we are dis-solving conflict from within.