Once again, I heard the call from my office. “Lunch time everyone!” yelled my supervisor. Every single day, in my new job. The same thing.
We were a small office, and when the boss was hungry, it was lunchtime. For everyone. Whether or not we were hungry, we were expected to drop everything, grab our lunch, and sit in the meeting room all together, where we would try our very best to make small talk. And act like we liked being there. I hated it.
I hated it so much, I started coming up with excuses, no matter how lame: “I’m not hungry.” “I already ate.” “I’m too busy – I’ll just eat at my desk.” “I’m going to head out soon and I’ll grab something then.”
No – No eating disorder. Yes – Maybe just a smidgen of authority issues. Mostly, though, I was and continue to be an introvert. Please, just leave me alone to eat my lunch in peace, with my nose in a book.
So, just tell your boss that at lunch, you need some down time, some alone time, that you prefer to eat by yourself. What’s so hard about that?
Would you believe that this very issue came up in therapy for weeks, months. I had no words for why I absolutely could not even imagine saying anything of the sort out loud to my supervisor. Ever. I could not even trying it once to see what would happen. Even now as I remember this time in my life, my heart is beating a tiny bit faster.
Now I better understand that those neural connections were jammed – They just were not going to go there. And why not? O, all these years later, I suspect my miserable reticence was just ordinary garden variety fear. Fear made more powerful because I could not name it. And I was very young. And scared of my supervisor. But what fascinates me to this day is why such a simple thing seemed absolutely unthinkable at the time. (I never did say anything.)
What is going on in our brains at times like this? Why do our neurons and synapses jam sometimes, and what can we do to coax them along? In the grand scheme, this is such a harmless example – this forced lunchtime togetherness. But in our lives, what keeps us blind to what is right there? What keeps us mute? What stops our thinking?
“No, I can’t say THAT!” or “I could NEVER do THAT!” or “You just don’t understand, it’s out of MY control.” But when pushed, we can’t really articulate what is going on inside us. We just know we CAN’T. And it can be dangerous – If we are blind to the signs of autism in our toddler, to the signs our elderly parent shouldn’t be driving, to the signs our children are using drugs, to the signs we are heading to addiction.
Denial. The deeply seated invisible denial. If you say you are in denial, you are admitting there is something there to deny. I’m not talking about that level of denial – That’s denial lite. I’m talking about when we aren’t even aware of what is going on.
What’s going on here? One, our brains are geared to the imminent threat, not the long term consequences of avoiding the conflict, and addressing the issue feels like imminent threat. And two, fear – especially the unnameable, unspeakable fear – holds us – our ability to think clearly – hostage. It jams the thinking process, unless we can name it.
I keep digging to understand what is going on in our brains at times like that, and what we can do to help ourselves and each other coax those neurons along. Those neurons, those synapses, they can be like skittish squirrels reluctant to take a tiny step closer, and we have to keep practicing, keep meditating, keep encouraging the truth to rise to the surface. Sometimes, those neurons don’t connect themselves. They need our mind’s help. What has helped you let truth in?