We heard a good joke recently. A man and his young grandson are shopping in a supermarket. The little boy is fussing and whining, wanting to leave.
The grandfather says, “Be patient, William. We only have two more items to get and then we can go.”
A few moments later, the grandson is again complaining, and the grandfather says, “Just one last item to find, and then we can go, William.”
Finally they are in the checkout line, and the boy is still acting out and making a scene. The grandfather says, “We’re almost done, William. We just have to pay, and then we can go to the car.”
As they’re leaving, a woman comes up to the man and says, “I have been observing how patient you are with your grandson William. I want to congratulate you on your kindness.”
The man replies, “Thank you, madam, but you misunderstand. I am William, my grandson’s name is Harry.”
I’ve told this joke a few times, and it always gets a laugh. It’s such a common situation that it resonates with everyone. But, as with many jokes, there is a deeper side to it.
We all find ourselves in situations that are unpleasant, but from which there is no easy escape. We can learn from William how to handle such times. If we let frustration get the upper hand, it will lead to anger, which will then lead to conflict. It is a self-reinforcing negative cycle experienced by both individuals and nations.
Or, we can break the cycle by affirming a positive quality that neutralizes the negative energy. Here, William is using a sort of simple affirmation, a “Be patient” mantra. Repeatedly Paramhansa Yogananda talked about the importance of positivity on the spiritual path. There are three simple steps to greater self-control:
1) Control the reactive process. Try to give yourself a little time, even a few seconds, before you respond. Those few seconds give you the space to act rather than react. Take a few deep breaths. Count to ten. Repeat a simple affirmation. Stretch your spine. Do anything to gain the space you need, and you will find it much easier not to get drawn into an adverse response, which would sustain a negative cycle.
2) Neutralize the negative force coming toward you with its positive opposite. The boy was impatient, so the grandfather affirmed patience. Affirmations work because the world is made up of opposing polarities. A positive thought creates a positive flow of energy in the neural circuits of the brain, which creates a positive magnetism, or force field. The opposite is, of course, also true, and most of the time people simply react, reinforcing the negative magnetism, which leads to conflict.
3) Communicate your positive response. The grandfather didn’t ignore the boy, he reassured him. When faced with negativity, be sure to let the other person know that you have heard them. Otherwise they will get angrier and shout louder just to be sure they have your attention.
The central point here is that trying to make the world conform to your wishes will only lead to frustration—it is hard enough to control our own behavior. But that, my friends, is the task given to each of us. Self-control is the fast lane to Self-realization.