Sometimes I wake up with a thought about an unresolved conflict. It could be something that happened years ago, or just yesterday. Before my eyes open fully, I have to make a conscious choice to not entertain that thought and replace it with something else. Something that will serve me well. I don't always succeed.
When the conflicted thought successfully seduces me, I end up ruminating. It is a strange sort of relief, in the moment. I perfect what I would say to a person with whom I've had conflict, if I had the courage/if we could redo the conversation/if if if. It feels as though I am smoothing the edges off a jagged piece of wood with my rumination. The trouble is, this seemingly innocuous practice has notable and immediate consequences.
After a bout of rumination, I feel irritable and it is difficult to be present in the moment. It is as if rumination is an intoxicant and it takes time for the affects of it to wear off. It helps to seek out inspiring (perspective building) stories to bring me back to center, do something physical or meditate.
Its taken me years to recognize that rumination has no value. It is a way to hold on to pain and stories of pain (which may or may not be completely accurate). It is how I stay tied to experiences where I failed myself in some way--most likely, by not standing up for myself. And, rumination fosters the notion of victimhood which does't permit the opportunity to step in to my power.
What I practice now, after sobering up from a rumination binge, is to write down what happened as objectively as possible (this can be difficult because our own story gets in the way). Then, write how I felt about what happened. Next, write what needs of mine were not met by what happened. And finally, what I would do differently next time (there is always a next time).
This is the outline of empathetic dialog and in this case, I engage in it with myself. The other person doesn't need to be part of it and often, we're not able to include the other person for what ever reason. This practice has been helping me recognize my behavior patterns including beliefs that call certain personality types, with whom I don't mesh, into my life.
There can be a fifth step in this self-empathy practice. Writing down how I imagine the other person might feel and what needs were not met for them. Of course, we can't know for sure how they felt, but this practice softens the heart and invites compassion in to the story. Instead of seeing the other person as wrong, mean, the bad guy, etc. we make space in our psyche for the possibility that this other person is human, has feelings and may also have regret. It is at this point when we can forgive them. Forgive ourselves and forgive the situation.
This morning's inspiration: