Stay off the Upset Train by Bryan Reeves

If you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family. ~ Ram Dass

trainLike many of you, I spent the holidays with family. It’s just fascinating how the families we grew up with, and often return to around the holidays, so expertly find the buttons we were sure we’d expertly hidden that trigger us into wild, limbs-akimbo freak-out mode.

Actually, I’m pretty sure my dad has my freak-out buttons wired onto a convenient little pocket remote he keeps in his back pocket. If I’m in range, he just needs to accidentally sit on it at breakfast and I feel my blood begin to heat up.

One morning in the days before Christmas, my sister Cska burst into the guest bedroom I was sleeping in. She was on a tirade about my dad on a tirade in the kitchen. Whatever his freak out, the message didn’t clearly come through my sister, her words all jumbled and frenzied as they burst forth from her tizzied mind. It was about 10am, and although I was already awake, I had earlier decided to ease into the day and rest in bed a bit longer … until my sister crashed in on my peace.

Ahhhh, home for the holidays.

Since his children began converging on his spacious Nashville home just a few days earlier, my dad had been leaking out little complaints here and there about our sleeping, eating and hygiene habits. For most of the years I’ve known him, my dad has struggled to speak his truth in an authentic, straight-forward, loving way. Usually, critiques and complaints pop out of his mouth in the form of cynical, degrading jokes designed to tear down the world around him. It’s like he has “criticism tourette’s symdrome.” He means well and has a good heart. It just seems he knows no other way of connecting to the world around him.

So when my sister came bursting into my room, I kinda knew it was coming. I”d been experiencing a cresting wave of heat in my own belly those past few days, the familiar precursor to a confrontation with Dad. Rather than give into that heat and let it fuel my ire, however, I had simply been observing it for what it is: my own insecurity and self-doubt being tested by a man with my buttons on remote control.

Within a few seconds, I saw what was happening. My dad was going into upset in the kitchen, probably about dishes or people still sleeping (it was only 10am, and on holiday vacation, mind you). My sister had been in the kitchen when it started and obviously agreed to take on his upset. I then heard her rush into her room adjacent to mine and excitedly try to urge her boyfriend into panic. She then burst into my room, mumbling something about dad’s upset before leaving as quickly as she came.

So there I was. I caught what was happening. There was an Upset Train in motion. My dad was the conductor, my sister agreed to get on board and tried to drag her boyfriend on. Now she was urging me to buy a ticket.

Three specific reactions began to stir within me.

First, the “Upset Rebel” within began a hunger strike. “Screw that! I’ll just stay in bed longer then!” that voice demanded. “I might even stay here all day! That will show them!!” I fantasized how my sit-in – or rather my bed-in – would show my would-be oppressors that I could not be controlled.

Then my “Upset Warrior” joined the rebellion and began to sharpen his spear. I quickly saw myself jumping out of bed, running into the kitchen and triumphantly vanquishing my opponents with righteous force. I would stand boldly up to my oppressors, strong and self-determined, and psychologically slay these silly enemies before me … and I would be ruler of the world in that moment.

However, there was also a curious third voice speaking. It was far more still than the others. It suggested I just breathe. I heard the question, “what was I originally intending to do had my sister not burst in my room?” It was answered with, “it doesn’t even matter; she did burst into your room. This is the new reality now. Just breathe.”

Somehow, that third experience was in opposition to nothing. It lovingly held the warrior and the rebel; it also held my sister and my father. It even patiently held my desire to reconnect with the peaceful place I was experiencing before Cska burst into my room on The Upset Train.

Quietly, I went back to what I was doing, watching funny videos on my phone. I fed neither the desire to defy nor fight. I simply lay my head back down, let the Upset Train pass me by, and went on about my day.

A short while later, I arose and made my way out to the kitchen, calm and peaceful as could be. My sister was in front of her laptop at the dining room table. My dad was preparing some coffee. Everyone seemed fine. The Upset Train had apparently come and gone, without me ever hopping aboard.

I felt peaceful.

Yes, later that day the Upset Train came roaring back. My dad, a masterful conductor, again called for all passengers. At my side, as always, were my easily excitable warrior still sharpening his spear and that cunning rebel always going over his plans.

There was of course also that third voice, imploring me to simply breathe and stay off the train.

As my father cleverly tempted me onto the train and I dangerously toyed with sabotage and battle, I chose instead to use my spear like a machete and hack my way into the thick dangerous jungle that protects my father’s authentic truth like some long lost ancient ruin. I could faintly hear his heart’s deep wishes buried in his complaints, and I chose to open myself up to those faint whispers rather than do battle with the complaints themselves.

I’ve ridden the Upset Train enough. I’ve done enough battle. Sure, it makes me feel powerful for a time, but it alienates my father even more than he no doubt already feels, and it robs me of a relationship with him.

I can’t keep other people from jumping on board, but I can sure keep myself from taking that tumultuous ride!!


Bryan ReevesBryan Reeves manages transformational music artists and blogs about his experience at Bryan was once a Captain in the US Air Force before becoming the worldwide PR Spokesperson for an Oprah-endorsed human energy research company. He currently manages pop-spiritual-fusion music band HERE II HERE ( and electro-pop artist Ash Ruiz whose hot, lyrical music raises the volume of Your True Nature (

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