Monday, November 21, 2005

Default settings

My friend Al threw out an intriguing concept this weekend—default settings. You know, when you get a new computer program, and you can set all the defaults.

Like in Word, which I'm typing in right now to write this blog entry. You can set the default font to Times Roman, or the page margins to 1.5 inches, etc. And from then on, whenever you create a document in Word, those settings will appear in the document. To change your documents, you can either change each feature in each newly created one, or you can go back to the template and change the defaults to your new preference.

I actually did this last week, in Word. I had by mistake changed the bullet default, and kept getting this weird symbol that I had to adjust every time I started a bulleted list. At first, it was easier to just change the document I was in, so I could get the immediate job done faster. But last week, it irritated me enough that I stopped what I was doing and hunted around until I could figure out how to change the default. Now, the bullets I want come up automatically.

When Al and I were discussing this, it was actually in the context of spiritual growth. He mentioned having to change some of his mental "default settings." (He's a Web designer.) "That's cool," I said, "can I put it in my blog?" :)

To me, this had universal spiritual applicability. How many habits of thought do we indulge in purely by default? Are we aware of our default positions in response to certain stimuli? And are those defaults really what we want?

Years ago, I was very sensitive to being teased. I would leap to the conclusion that I wasn't being taken seriously, and I would respond defensively.

Most examples of this happened when I was with my extended family. Habits of conversation had developed over decades. It was like we were playing out the same emotional script over and over; different words maybe, but the same emotions.

When I wasn't with my family, though, I was maturing. Spiritual growth was teaching me how to love better and how to see the good in others. So for one Christmas gathering, I determined to see things differently and to try to not play out those same scenes. I determined I was going to keep uppermost in thought that everyone there was a child, not of this particular human family, but of the Divine, and each expressed the divine Love that fills all space. I would try to express that Love.

The gathering started out harmoniously enough. After a celebratory meal, the 'rents went to bed and my siblings, their spouses and I sat around a table kvetching into the night. And then the inevitable happened. Someone said something to me that offended me.

I could feel my hackles rise, and I was about to respond angrily. But I caught myself and really listened to what the person had said and how they'd said it. Sure, it wasn't the most loving or gracious thing to say, but it suddenly struck me that he was just trying to be funny. It was his way of kidding around.

So, I did the unthinkable. I laughed. Default setting—changed.

Everyone relaxed. One of my sisters piped up and said something nice about me. And that to me was a miracle—I'd never given anyone else a chance to defend me before, and I learned for the first time they were ready to do so. I left the whole conversation feeling loved in a new way.

Since then, this has become my default setting for good natured kidding—actually even for more ill-tempered joking. I laugh it off and just let the conversation turn, rather than escalating it into a pitched battle. And sometimes I get the gift of someone saying something nice. Very precious.

Changing default settings may take some digging, but it's worth it. Then, you're set for going forward.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 11/21/2005 04:46:00 PM, Anonymous Rev. Veronika Birken said...

Dear Laura,
The other day at a spiritual meeting somebody read out:
"My 'programming' made me say ----!" I thought that was cool! What a way to be aware of when I am just talking, not the Truth, but just old stuff I have picked up and am still 'playing' like some tape.
Love, Veronika


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