The Lesson You Choose

The other day one of my students had a rather scary moment after class, we’ll call him Bill. While performing a demonstration Bill nearly injured another student by going faster and harder than he was planning to. The other called out and left the room nursing a sore arm. Bill turned white. He stammered an apology and looked at me sick. I consoled Bill and worked to get him back on track in his demonstration as smoothly as possible. Another instructor looked after the potentially injured student (who in the end was fine).

This moment was really scary for Bill and though we talked about it afterward and acknowledged that everyone is here and understands the risk of practicing a martial art; that Bill had not done it on purpose but had made a mistake he was sorry for; and he had sought proper amends with the other student; I knew this might present a real challenge for Bill’s sense of self and safety. It indeed did.

When something scary, or shocking happens, a mistake is made by you or someone else, or something challenges your worldview, there is an opportunity and a choice. There is an opportunity to learn, and a choice about the lesson. Anxiousness, cynicism, bitterness, are all the negative products that can come from these types of choices. Often when something scary happens the lesson that one can take from it is “X is scary” or “I’m not capable of handling Y” or “This place is not safe like I thought it was” or “This worked out badly just as I feared.”. When we choose these messages in ourself we move toward a negative state, a negative view of self and of the world around us. When I say “choose” I mean it. We have a choice in the lessons that we take on. We can choose good ones or bad ones. Few situations are only black or only white.

The day after this event I had a conversation with Bill. He was still shaken up and wanted my help to process the situation. He said that he was shocked at his own ability to hurt another. He was scared as he felt the walls of an otherwise safe environment appearing to crumble around him. I asked him where he wanted the experience to take him? If the best outcome could come from it, what would it be? There were two distinct directions things could have gone. One choice was to see the event as a statement of his lack of control, his power to hurt, and to introduce a new type of fear into the environment. On this path he may have become tentative and anxious, and start to worry about other chances to accidentally hurt someone and then possibly realize them. The alternate course was to choose a different lesson. To see this as a moment to learn about care and attention, an opportunity to learn about presence and peace.

Realizing that you have a choice of lesson can be profound. Bill chose to step toward the opportunity to learn and grow as a person. His view of himself and the environment he trained in was challenged and he chose to help the event reinforce his view of his ability to respond to a situation positively and to continue to see the environment as one of safety and growth. He chose to take it as a lesson and reminder to be present and calm.

I’m proud of him.

Life is constantly presenting us with challenges and in these challenges are opportunities to choose our lessons and through them our path and sense of self. Be mindful that every one of these moments is indeed a choice.