She had come home from school, shaken and teary-eyed, face swollen from crying. When her mother asked her what happened, the five-year old sobbed, "When the swing chain hits you in the head, it really changes your life!", and burst into tears all over again at the memory of her first truly painful experience.
She was right. Never again would she be so unaware of the possibly painful results of her innocent actions; or, more simply, of being in the wrong place at the right time. Thunk! Just thinking of it made my head hurt.
The little girl's comment stayed with me all day. I wrote it down on a yellow sticky note - it has been on my computer for months. Her statement struck me: I imagined her young head coming into painful contact with the swing chain, and the flash of knowledge she gained in that moment. The swing chain packed a great deal of information into her understanding of the world at the instant her body felt the pain - an early lesson certainly more intense than a college course.
For me, the yellow sticky brought thoughts of all the times I had to get hit in the head to learn a simple fact. I've often pondered on this, and now I have a name for it: The Swing Chain.
I'm talking about the kind of swing chain that brings you to your knees. You had no choice in the matter, no chance to duck. You were going along with your life one day, and, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Thunk! you've been hit with some fact of life that you didn't see coming.
It might have been the first time you found yourself really embarrassed at school in front of all the laughing people you thought were your friends.
There are all kinds of swing chains: some can be seen, but others are almost unnoticeable, and you suddenly find yourself smashed flat by the Lesson. Maybe you promised yourself over and again that you would take the car to the shop for oil change or to get those needed new tires now: Thunk! Or how about the vague, sinking feeling in your stomach when you are giving trust where trust is not respected? Thunk! Now those things are not the swing chains themselves, but they could warn you the chain is on its way if only you would carefully heed the premonitions.
Sometimes you do get just a tiny bit of warning, a thread of the picture, a clue. My name for the state of mind required to be able to notice a thread or a clue is "Paying Attention" - I have a note to myself on my refrigerator:
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS: THEY MATTER.
Part of my need to pay attention to details rests in my ability to be in the moment. Well, that sounds good, and I agree with it; but in my case, I've already forgotten the last moment! For example, where I left my keys, watch, purse, gloves, et cetera.
Sometimes my family's survival depended upon my need to pay attention to details. Until I learned to put things where they belonged, such as the car keys, I had many frantic moments searching for them; I was usually already late for my second job: how would we buy groceries if THAT happened? My kids raced around the place, helping me play the key-finding game...
Such agonizing mental swing chains can be the worst of all swing chains. I learned to avoid them like the plague! To pay attention to details.
Details can be physical or conceptual. They can be both at the same time or neither. For me, details have always been tricky, with a hierarchy of presence. That means that some details are more important than others, especially when placed in the context of time. Some details give me a tiny glimpse into a pattern. A glint, glance, something strikes my mind, and I pay attention.
The little yellow sticky on my desk didn't seem to retain its initial impact. Weeks, months went by. Occasionally I would read it, think about tossing it, then just tape it back, feeling that sometime it would tell me its importance. There are too many swing-chain details required for that particular learning link for me to speak of here - about being relaxed as to the WHEN of things, let alone the WHAT of them. It is enough to know I learned that link well. I didn't have to repeat the lesson.
One day I glanced at the yellow sticky and thought: Why wait for the swing chain to hit me? Why not just get out of the way?
My mind's eye immediately filled with a picture of a castle, flagged turrets bright against the blue sky. Two strong combatants strode out a central gate and stood, nose to nose, in front of the stone walls on either side of the bridge, each carrying a spear of conviction. They appeared to be equally matched - they seemed to be in disagreement.
I heard the Blue Knight say to the Red Knight, "Why do you wait for my swing chain to hit you? Why do you not simply move out of the path?"
The Red Knight mumbled something back, probably impolite, because the Blue Knight quickly responded with a lethal attack.
The Red ducked just as quickly, swinging mightily at the Blue Knight's knees. The Blue Knight grunted, looked surprised and fell over the stone wall. The Red Knight remained standing, idly swinging his spear, gazing over the wall.
Suddenly, the yellow sticky was in front of me again. What a terrible way to end an image, but there you are, that is the way images occur. "Why," I asked myself, "stand in front of a stone wall, waiting for a swing chain? Why not just simply move on down the path and away from danger?"
That was impossible for the Blue Knight, I thought. He didn't see the spear coming in low like that. It was a total surprise. How could he have known? And here an Inner Voice joined my swing-chain conversation. While I may sometimes cleverly argue my own point, the calm conviction in tone and word of the Inner Voice nearly always brings me to a clearer understanding of the entire picture - that is, if I can only hear the truth of what is being said.
The Inner Voice said: "There are many answers to that. However, the one most fitting to this discussion is so simple that most will not understand it. Stand anywhere you like. Be safe. You ARE safe. If you learn this one fact, and you live with it as one of the main supports in your world view, you will never again 'be in the way' of any swing chain, known or unknown. This is truth."
The Inner Voice had come and gone, having said enough for further thought. I liked that idea because I do not want to be in the way of head-knocking swing chains. I rarely see them coming, therefore I doubt my ability to stay clear of them. Besides, how can any of us know what will happen at any time and place?
"We cannot know the future, therefore we cannot predict. Therefore any swing chain could hit us in the head," I told myself. If I, filled with hard-won wisdom, will be able to avoid any swing chain simply because I am now too wise to stand in the way: I will simply move away from the strike zone. I will pay attention to details all the time, thus avoiding all swing chains. End of story.
However, there is a different way to examine this issue, one I am yet learning. It is one that allows me to agree to see beyond my old world view. It can be done without agreement, but is more easily done in harmony. By that I mean all those warring aspects of my own thoughts about everything. There is little that the "All" of me agrees with. Constantly arguing with myself over the tiniest things, gradually the All came to know there was one thing they agreed upon: they were getting very tired of dodging swing chains. Agreed, we all came together, and it wasn't long before my energy levels rose. In fact, my stance improved. I was and I AM alert, awake, and AWARE.
It is easier to be creative in this state of mind and to imagine yourself in the place you want to be, even down to the smallest detail. Be relaxed about it, let it go, but still act as if it is a fact. Then proceed to do the small things you would do to prepare yourself WHEN you are in that previously 'imaged' place.
WHEN ENERGY LEVELS ARE CHANGED BY THOUGHT, ACTION SOON FOLLOWS.
If the word 'energy' is used as criteria for what is 'good' or 'not good', understanding can follow the concept through into reality. Low energy is 'not good'; high energy is 'good'. But first there is another question. Do I really want to avoid all swing chains?
Isn't there something to be learned through adversity? as in all the time I've spent learning that my attitude was what really mattered, and not what might or might not happen to me? Through it all, I had to learn to have a right attitude, sometimes in a 'no matter what' decision.
Thinking about all this one day, I had an Eureka! moment: I saw myself standing in front of a brick wall, expertly dodging swing chains. After watching all my energy being used to leap from spot to spot, generally avoiding all but glancing blows from swing chains, I wondered why I didn't just move away from in front of the brick wall; that would be ever so much easier. My pictured self obediently then moved away from the wall. Instant peace, and even though my muscles were still watchfully twitching, I could still feel relief and relaxation - energy! - coursing through my body and mind. I was safe. The only problem with this picture is that it involved stepping away from the wall, yet it seemed to be the only way. I could not imagine just standing there, letting the swing chains hit me.
"Change your energy level. Think how you feel when you are safe, with no swing chains. Remain where you are, know you are safe," said the Inner Voice again. Okay, say I am in front of a wall, and I know there are going to be swing chains all set to 'get me' if I don't watch out. Sure, I can say I will change my energy, but it just isn't going to happen: I'm stubborn. Of course being stubborn uses up my energy, but I have plenty of energy, I argued. My inner self is not going to easily let go of watching out for those swing chains.
"When you even 'imagine' yourself to be safe, your energy levels go up, almost instantly. Try it," the Inner Voice suggested.
Well, I did try it, and all my Warring Knights of Self came together with bright swords sheathed at the Round Table of Agreement. I haven't been hit with a swing chain since, but I did have to get hit in the head with a lot of swing chains before I recognized the truth about them. But that doesn't matter any more.
The simple fact of the matter is, I didn't have to dodge most of them to begin with.
Index of Prescribed Reading