We were staying at a beautiful resort in Croatia – Anna and myself and our two girls, Claudia and Sara. We’d been there a few days and by now we were all very relaxed and getting into the holiday spirit. It had been a particularly hot day, most of which we’d spent on the beach, and now we were having dinner in the hotel restaurant. I can’t remember what the subject of conversation was, or even if there was any. All I remember is Claudia reaching out for her glass of water and promptly passing out. She pitched forward across the table, tipping over her glass, spilling water everywhere. Then she began to shake, as though having a fit. People at other tables looked on in various states of concern as Anna and I sprang into action. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, though it probably took no more than a few seconds.
A study of the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought teaches us that our experience is generated from the inside out, that in fact rather than ‘stuff happening to us’ we are, in a way, the ‘stuff’ of Mind that is ‘happening’ to the world. Our consciousness is like a movie projector that creates our reality from moment to moment. And that movie is gripping, or boring, or terrifying or funny depending on the thoughts we attach to it. In my coaching sessions I talk a lot about the ways in which our stories are made up. In this context what I generally mean by story is the ‘big picture’ story of our lives, the one in which we cast ourselves as ‘hero’, regardless of whether we see that person as good or bad, successful or a failure. But what about an event like I’ve just described, when time is collapsed to, literally, a few seconds. Do the same rules apply? Are we making that up too? The concern that we feel for our kids, seeing them in some apparently life-threatening situation, is clearly not fake. It’s about the most ‘real’ emotion there is. Isn’t that true?
I’ve thought about it a lot since and this is my insight. Any emergency or crisis we face in life can be split up into two parts:
The actual event. … and the telling of the story.
To cut to the chase, Claudia did have to be rushed to hospital but recovered quickly and in a very short space of time was back to her normal self. The Croatian doctor, who was extremely kind and helpful, put it down to too much sun, but the symptoms had been no less frightening for that.
I went on Facebook (as you do) to share the experience. There was no real reason why anybody needed to know about our little drama, but like most people who have come out the other side of a crisis, I felt a need to express my feelings, to ‘debrief’ if you like with some sympathetic friends. I described the incident and talked about the inevitable sense of panic I had experienced in those awful few seconds. Everyone responded as you would expect, expressing their own sense of relief and wishing us well.
But a strange thing happened. A little while later I remembered the event with more clarity. I mean that I actually remembered, and what I remembered was this: I was perfectly calm when Claudia keeled over. I knew exactly what to do and I did it. So did Anna. Mind had our backs, ensuring that we didn’t panic, because that would not have solved anything. It would not have been the right thing for Claudia, (or for Sara, who was watching, for that matter).
The panic came later, in the telling of the story, when I began to attach emotions to the event. It was these emotions that I couldn’t help but share with my Facebook friends. And I realised that this is how the system works. The world ‘outside’ is neutral.
Let’s hope we don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way too often. If you want further proof, think about a more common, more everyday event. Have you ever been spoken to – extremely rudely – by, say, a shopkeeper or some government official? I’m betting you have, and I’m betting you thought nothing of it in that moment. It just happened and you walked away. But on the way home you replayed the words in your head and your anger rose with the thoughts. You brooded on it all day until you were finally alone with your partner and you could vent to your heart’s content.
“Can you believe what that *%[email protected]&* said to me?!!”