the smack

I’m watching the Academy Awards, answering emails and cleaning my desk. That’s when I see Jada Pinkett Smith, sitting in the swanky front row with her husband Will Smith. The next presenter, Chris Rock, lays into her with a lame joke about her hair. She’s rolling her eyes and looking very pissed-off. Hubby is laughing, kind of fakey-like. Until he isn’t. That’s when he bounds on stage, all huffy-puffy, and smacks Chris Rock in the noggin. My computer screen goes blank. OMG was that a comedy bit or was it for real? A few seconds later I see Chris Rock cradling his face and making a joke. Because he is a COMEDIAN.

This is what I’m thinking:
I hope Will Smith has his therapist on speed dial.

What a Rorschach Test moment for humanity, huh. I am so devastated by Ukraine, overwrought about Covid and global warming. Add to that toxic politics, racism and a litany of other troubles. So I appreciate a news story that doesn’t include annihilation or leaves me feeling utterly powerless. But as I watch that smack, something inside of me crackles. I think a lot of people are triggered. For a lot of different reasons.

Suddenly old memories wash over me, starting with this one: I’m in my early twenties, already working in piano bars and here I am, auditioning as a contestant on a new game show. One of the guest celebrities, a middle-aged comedienne, rags on me, making jokes about my appearance, especially my unruly red hair. All for laughs, of course, but I am mortified and her verbal volleys register quickly on my face. And not in a good OR entertaining way. In fact, after the show, she apologizes profusely and explains her process of making funny. At someone else’s expense.

Lesson #1: Don’t take it personally.
Lesson #2: It’s not personal.
Lesson #3: It’s probably about them and not you.

Unfortunately I am taking this whole thing too personally to process any of these lessons.

Fast forward. I am a middle-aged woman attending a five-day meditation retreat where everyone is supposed to be silent and follow the rules. Let me tell you about these retreats… The work is to lean inward. To watch the tangle of stories we tell ourselves. To notice how our emotions can go from calm to cuckoo and back again in one thirty-minute sit. To get cozy with the silence we desperately run from in our everyday life.

Not so easy…

But sometimes the clouds of our messy lives part, the sun shines through and butterflies circle overhead.

Until they don’t.

That’s when the walls close in and the personal stuff gets really big, menacing even, and blown out of proportion.

But at least the food is good….

Well no butterflies for me. Early into the retreat I overhear a couple participants saying something disparaging. About me. Never mind there is no talking here, you jerks. A match has been struck and suddenly my body is on freaking fire. It feels like I can ignite a hundred barbeques by just pointing my fingers.

The storytelling has begun! My mother has arrived in my head along with a cast of others from my past. Many of us know how it feels to be the butt of a joke or worse, the victim of someone’s loathsome behavior. It feels awful and these awful feelings can go unresolved, unprocessed and stuffed deep into our bodies. For maybe a lifetime. Or until there is a really big fire.

I’ve gotten angry in my life, but nothing like this. I am almost delirious with rage and my body is throbbing with a kind of energy that both terrifies and enlivens me. One thing for sure, the original verbal indiscretion, whatever it was, does not warrant this kind of feverish response.

It makes me wonder if I’m tapping into something bigger than myself. A collective fury that is about this moment and a billion other moments that stretch back in time. Sounds a little woo-woo, huh. But I also know this power surge is not good for my health, that I’m furious enough to smack someone and have to DO something to dissipate the energy.

I put on my sneakers and slam around the grounds. Up and down hills. Between buildings. Across parking lots. It takes all afternoon of bam-bamming over cement and through dirt for the anger to finally burn through and out of my body. I topple into my little retreat bed, a limp, exhausted mess.

Many years later, I am still processing what happened to me that day. I am very grateful for this experience and what I learned.  I also hope it never happens again and can say the same thing about that smack.

Lesson #1: Don’t take it personally.
Lesson #2: It’s not personal.
Lesson #3: It’s probably about them and not you.
Lesson #4: I don’t have to believe everything I think.

So let’s enjoy our topsy-turvy lives and rejoice that a microphone isn’t set up in our heads for everyone to hear!


Ever wonder “How To Stop Taking Things Personally”? Read all about it in this short article from Forbes Magazine. CLICK HERE