Pay it forward. Random acts of Kindness. There are a number of projects and movements that encourage us to do good for others with the hope, maybe even the knowledge that our positive energy will be felt on and on, past the good deed we did. I believe in that. I trust that the energy I give off when I’m bursting with joy is felt far and wide. I’ve been known to “send positive energy” to loved ones who I think could use a little more. Do they feel it? I like to think so.
What about the flip side of this idea, though? What about when something hard, awful, or painful happens? That negative energy splashes beyond those directly connected to the pain too. I realized this several years ago, after I was raped. Obviously I was impacted, but so were my friends and my family. So were his friends and his family. So were the detectives who interviewed me, the nurse who did my exam, the counselors who talked to me. So are my friends now, who didn’t know me then, and my kids who weren’t even thought of yet. And it goes on and on.
However, even though it seems obvious, this flow of energy is something that I easily forget. I’m reminded often, though, because there is evidence of it nearly everywhere – with both big and small disappointments. My kids start acting up when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Someone cuts me off in traffic and I call them not-nice names. Or a friend has a miscarriage and I mourn with her. The energy of negative encounters can be passed on as easily, sometimes more easily, than that of positive interactions.
It’s ok that we wallow with others sometimes. It’s ok to feel a range of emotions – high to low. But once that momentum is out there, once those ripples start, you can’t stop them. That’s why I think it’s important to recognize and identify those emotions and try to change the feel of that wave that radiates out from them.
Let’s take a simple example from my life. I get stressed (about anything) and it goes to my muscles. The tension in my neck and shoulders causes my back to pull in different ways. The more out of whack my spine gets, the more tired I feel. The more tired I feel, the more likely I am to turn to caffeine (read Pepsi) to keep me going during the days. The more I drink pop, the more I have to deal with sugar crashes. Sugar crashes make me short tempered, which effects the kids. The kids get in trouble for simply being kids and they start bickering more and more. The increased fighting makes me question if I’m being a good mom. This stresses me out more.
See the problem with this? And it’s usually not until I realize that my stress is the catalyst here that anything changes. Sometimes that takes a few days, sometimes months. But, good news! Once I do recognize the trigger of that stress and work it out – by literally working out, praying, meditating, writing, something to get it out of my muscles – I remember for a while that negative rippling happens. And (more good news) so do positive ripples. So I make a few of those. I turn my stresses into motivation to be extra kind to my children. We read, play, bake, laugh together. I hold them tightly. I feel determined to spread joy to others. I smile at folks in the grocery store or say hello to others in parking lots. I text hugs to dear friends. I do good works without expectation of recognition. I pick up the trash I see on my way into the store or send a note – via snail mail – to someone I haven’t connected with in a while. I embrace those near me who need that warmth.
And I write. I sit at a table (sometimes that’s my lap while I’m in my recliner, but today it’s legitimately a table at the YMCA), with something to sip (coffee anyone?) and I share with you the thoughts I think may help. I grip your hand and share my heart because that can ripple too.