The Boomerang Effect: Promises Made and Newton’s Third Law of Motion

boomerang wi flowers

Have you ever heard of Newton’s Third Law of Motion? For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.

I didn’t realize that this law applies to promises, but apparently it does. Last week, I made a gargantuan promise, right out loud and in writing for Pete’s sakes. I promised that I was declaring war on some of my intransigent emotional patterns, so I could, you know, maybe live out the second half of my life in relative peace and contentment?

Or at least not add misery to difficult situations by piling my own, mentally-created pain on top?

Is this too much too ask?

Sure enough, no sooner had I made this public declaration, than the emotional reaction flew right back at me with boomerang-accuracy, and whacked me in the head.  It started with irritation. Then I got sad, I got angry, I got seriously wound up. I was edgy. I had a hard time concentrating. Then I began frantically looking around for a release valve – remodel the living room? Drive to Petawawa? A Twilight movie marathon perhaps?  Yes, no and yes. But, the stress kept building and building.

Until I finally called my husband and barked at him.

This was not helpful.

There were small mercies. I realized pretty fast that this was both a bad idea and a perfectly predictable step in the same old process, and I quickly ended the call. And in the midst of my growling, my husband had the wherewithal to say “I love you and hope you feel better soon.”

I swear, it is as though these mental habits are living entities, flexing their muscles and taunting me:

Ha! You think you can rid of me? You’ve got another thing come sweetheart.

But here’s the rub. (Did you ever wonder where the heck that saying came from and what it means?). The rub is that this apparent failure was a gift. A gift, people.

I know what you’re thinking. Lisa, you went to law school, so you’re just pulling one of those legal beagle tricks, right? You’re going to make a clever argument based on no substance whatsoever. Like Kleenex, for instance.

Well, yes, I did go to law school (twice, if you must know), but I am not making an argument just for the sake of making an argument. I actually believe this stuff. I have to. Otherwise, I might as well just go jump off the cliff now (and yes, for heaven’s sakes, I am being completely rhetorical when I say that. My big cliff is indulging in the third coffee and going on a book-buying binge. Or if I’m really bent out of shape, I might watch Eat Pray Love three times in a row with a notebook and pen in hand.)

So what is this gift?

This: I could sit down in the middle of that emotional firestorm and study it, watch those hysterical thoughts flying by and say wait a minute. Just what exactly is going on here? This is one of the skills I’ve learned through meditation practice. To grab one of those thoughts right out of the air, pin it like a butterfly to a board, breathe myself calm for a few moments – or an hour –  and then say now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute. Is that even true? Or am I just yanking my own chain again? And am I talking to myself? Well, yes, yes you are, dear.

Or, if I’m feeling really brave, I drop the thought, let it go screaming by and instead, focus on the feeling in my body: the ache of sadness in my gut, the chest-splitting anger, the tension that bunches my shoulders up to my ears. And I sit in that.

You would be amazed what you learn; you would be amazed, too, to find that there is relief there. Temporary, perhaps. Maybe even fleeting, but relief all the same.  Sometimes I step out of relief and right back into the firestorm. But I figure this is progress in any case. I am human after all.

So what to do with the emotional boomerang? Expect it. Duck if you can. And if you can’t, study it’s trajectory. There’s a lot to learn here.

More about that next week. In the meantime, I’m going to work on my ducking skills.