Happy Thanksgiving! At their best, holidays bathe us in connectedness, making us rich in what matters.
Or, during the holidays we can bolt from being present in a hundred ways. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.
Bolting is about fleeing discomfort. Bolting makes us less connected. It makes us poorer in what matters. In many cases it involves eating, drinking or spending too much.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to bolt rather than be present. I can do it dozens of times in a day if I’m stressed. Here are examples of how we bolt.
- Swallowing our discomfort with more beer or wine
- Avoiding eye contact
- Texting when someone is talking with us
- Buying gifts we can’t afford in order to gain acceptance
- Saying “That’s OK” when it’s not
- Saying something aggressive when we actually feel hurt or scared
- Checking email yet again
- Taking seconds and thirds when we’re already full
- Letting sexist or racist jokes pass on by unchecked
- Smiling when we feel like screaming
Night before last I managed to stay present when I could have bolted. I was waiting at a Max train stop downtown, the one at Yamhill. It was dark and almost nobody was around. A guy approached me.
“Hey, how are you doing tonight?” he said, too loudly.
I waited a couple beats before responding. My body became still and centered, as if my feet had roots that went down into the earth.
“I’m OK,” I said neutrally, without moving a muscle. “I’m waiting for my husband. He’s on the next train.”
“Oh! You gonna cook dinner for him?”
“No,” I smiled. “He’s taking me out.”
“Nice! I wanna come along!” But he was already walking away. “On this day in 1974 I came onto this earth!” he called out over his shoulder.
It took me a few seconds to put that together. “Happy birthday!” I called out to his retreating back.
“Was that guy giving you a bad time?” a soft male voice asked from my left. It was a youngish Latino man, also waiting for the train. I could see he didn’t like the first man’s manners.
“Not really,” I said slowly, since the first man had readily accepted that I wasn’t available.
“But thanks for checking, ” I said, meaning it. We chatted about how unusually warm it was for November. It turned out we were both from California. I’d been in Portland 25 years, he just one.
“How is Portland working out for you?” I asked him with interest.
“Pretty good. I’m starting my family,” he said shyly. “My girl, she’s pregnant.”
“That’s wonderful.” I pictured him being protective of the child who would be born.
“I made a good choice,” he said, looking into my eyes. I got it, got that his girl is solid, treats him well, is a keeper.
“That is so important, to make a good choice,” I said. “I made a good choice, too.” We smiled at each other. The train was pulling up.
“My name is Robert. I hope you have a good life.”
“Robert, I’m Alison. Likewise.” I got onto the train to join Thor, my good choice.
If the first man had approached me when I was younger I would likely have bolted rather than staying present. I would have been aggressive, saying something needlessly hurtful that could have escalated things.
But by being present, I learned the man was having his fortieth birthday. It’s not a leap to see that he was lonely, and was trying in an unskilled way to find connection.
And I learned that Robert, who’d wanted to protect me, was happy about starting his family with his girl. Connecting with him made me feel as full as if I’d eaten Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m glad I didn’t bolt. Being present left me satisfied, rich in what matters.
Next month I’ll be a guest on Sprocket Podcast: Simplifying The Good Life.