Have you ever found yourself expressing a criticism or contrary opinion in an automatic sort of way? If you do this habitually over time, you likely feel yourself become someone you don't like very much. The more you find fault with a person or idea, the more negative you become, and the more you find fault. You feel irritable. Every little thing seems to annoy you. You have lost your center and ability to find stillness. What's happening?
At a most basic level, there is our amoeba-like nature. Amoebas can't do a whole lot, but what they can do is move away from something they don't like and move toward what they do like. All day long you have these same amoeba-like impulses. When you are not self-aware and grounded, your whole experience can become a series of lunges toward and pulls away from all you encounter. Part of what it means to be free, is to have enough awareness that you notice the impulse to lunge or pull away and get to decide what you really want.
Interrupting this kind of knee jerk reactivity, in a situation with someone close to you, means pausing and holding yourself still when you have the impulse to pull away through criticism and contrary opinions. In that stillness you can feel the aversive feeling and ask yourself if acting on that feeling will help you create what you want in the moment.
On a more complex level, knee jerk negativity also arises out a drive to establish your sense of self in hopes of meeting needs for security, belonging, autonomy, and more. Establishing a sense of self that is whole, integrated, and dynamic is a natural part of any evolving path.
However, trying to establish a sense of self by expressing what you don't like and don't agree with, will leave you feeling empty and listless.
Establishing a solid sense of yourself in relationship with others, often means allowing and making space for pauses in any interaction. Asking for a time to take in what someone says, not only gives them the sense that you are really listening, but also allows you to make a true choice about your response. In that pause, you might find that you can be curious about perspectives that seem contrary to your own. You might come out of a pause and ask a clarifying question and/or make a guess at the need or good intention behind what this person is saying. Or you might come out of the pause with clarity about your own needs and values. You could then honor yourself and your listener and ask if she or he is interested in hearing your perspective.
The ability to find stillness and ask for a pause is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. With this skill you can consistently make decisions that are in alignment with your values and your heart's longing. With this skill you can transform escalating arguments into collaborative conversations that can respect differences and take action from universal needs (Go here for a feelings and needs list: http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/resources.html).
This week pick something that you regularly react to with negativity. Some common examples might be: other drivers, smoke outside your office window, a co-worker whom you dislike, your child pleading for more video game time, your partner talking about a challenge at work, noise from the neighbors, etc. Choose one thing and set the intention to be still and simply notice your negative reaction and letting the intensity of it pass so that you can choose how you would most like to respond.