by Erin Banda
As I am washing the dishes one evening after dinner, my mind begins to wander.
In a matter of moments, I am back in Mr. Hamilton’s class in the 4th grade. Jack, one of my classmates, is chewing gum in class. Mr. Hamilton didn’t allow us to chew gum in class. While he is teaching, Mr. Hamilton notices Jack and stops his lesson. He directs everyone’s attention to Jack, who has now been asked to stand.
Jack’s punishment is to take the gum out of his mouth and wear it on his nose for the rest of the school day.
My heart sinks through the floor. I watch in agony as Jack takes the gum out of his mouth and balls it up with his fingers. Then he squishes it onto his nose, where it sticks for the rest of the afternoon.
I’m not sure how I processed what happened in the moment, but looking back as an adult, I now know that I felt humiliated, bullied, victimized, and deeply offended; all on Jack’s behalf.
As I stand there washing dishes at the sink, I am fully immersed in my 9 year old body, experiencing all those emotions again, like they’re happening now, in this moment.
The power of the mind is amazing.
I connect with an old high school friend on FaceBook several months later. I tell him the story about Jack that I had remembered. Unbeknownst to me, he still sees Jack on occasion in my hometown and relays my story. Later, I get a message back from my FaceBook friend. He tells me that Jack had no recollection of that day in Mr. Hamilton’s class. He couldn’t remember having to wear gum on his nose, and he had a good laugh at my story.
Ummm . . . . what??!!! How can this possibly be?
I was only a bystander in the gum incident. How could this have been such a heavy drag on me all these decades later, while Jack, the recipient of the humiliation, didn’t remember it? How could he be oblivious to something so painful that happened to him, while I’ve been holding onto it for decades???
This provided a huge “a-Ha” moment. I realized that my mind held onto that story for all those years because of the meaning I gave it.
The real eye-opener was that it didn’t mean the same thing to Jack. In fact I later learned, he never thought about it again!
This idea was so incredibly freeing to me and was the turning point that helped me further down my path of personal development. I specifically wanted to learn about my mind and how it worked so that I could move forward faster in my life.
What I discovered was that my thoughts were creating my experience of life.
I held onto that 4th grade experience and made it mean something; whether it was the consequence of not following rules, compassion for another human being, how to handle a “teaching moment” with skill rather than shame, etc.
I threw myself into my inner work. I read lots of books, took online workshops and attended coach trainings. I uncovered many stories I was holding onto. Jack’s gum story was only a small piece of the puzzle. All the stories went back to my youth. I started to track them. I figured out how they all connected and began to process where these ideas showed up in my adult life, and very importantly, what I was still making them mean.
The mere fact that I was an adult while my mind was focusing on 4th grade was a huge neon flashing sign that I was stuck in what I made that story mean.
The real moment of “a-Ha-ness,” true liberation actually, was when I realized my stories were a choice. I could choose to carry them around with me and live my life from that place. Or, I could what I now affectionately call “pull a Jack” and release them . . . It was totally my choice.
Jack has no idea the impact that his gum chewing, and subsequent lack of meaning he gave it has had on me (unless he’s reading this blog). Ultimately, this story isn’t really about Jack at all. It’s about the mind and how it works when left unchecked.
Over the years, I’ve sought out many coaches, trainers and mentors who have helped me get to this emotionally healthy, confident and empowered place that I am now. Although I occasionally hit road blocks in life, I can now more easily identify and maneuver around them on my own.
Watching my thoughts and choosing which to believe, and which to challenge has been the most valuable gift I’ve given myself.