Drip. Drip-drip-drip-drip. I was putting the finishing touches on dinner. It had been a long day and I was idly leaning on the kitchen counter, enjoying a micro-moment of peace when something splashed onto my head. DRIP DRIP DRIP. “What in God’s name was that?” I looked up and saw water dripping from the ceiling onto my stovetop. Then I heard the upstairs toilet flush. And the drip became a stream. And the truth was revoltingly clear: Ready or not, a literal and figurative fecal hurricane had hit the fan. Serenity now.
It takes practice to be able to take things less personally. It takes practice to see the delicious-looking worm hiding the hook and choose not to bite.
Some days, it seems pretty obvious the world is out to get you (even without a major plumbing disaster like mine). The coffee pot just knew you were late for an important meeting when it jumped out of your hands and leapt to its death on the tiled floor, didn’t it? Whaddyagonnado? Stuff happens.
But the next time you feel harassed by kamikaze kitchen appliances or any of life’s large and small indignities, take a breath. Feel your feet making contact with the ground and bring your full attention to your body right there in the midst of the chaos. This almost ridiculously simple way to interrupt a volcanic moment could be the difference between trapping yourself in an emotional nightmare and finding humor in the midst of life’s unsavory moments.
Still, if your habit is to go all Tony Soprano when someone cuts you off in traffic, you’ll probably find it challenging to instantly change your behavior. We humans can be emotional firecrackers. Your most powerful ally will be your ability to accept yourself in all your gory glory. Sometimes rage, sadness, and a myriad of other strong emotions will be part of your experience, too.
We can learn to accept the whole shebang. We can find peace in the eye of the hurricane, but it takes practice.
Why? Because just when you think you’ve gotten out, the habit of overreacting drags you back in. That’s what habits do. When you can remember that, you can be crafty: Try making a list of your usual triggers and reactions. Carry it in your wallet. Come to know your list intimately. You might discover yourself biting the same hooks over and over—and when you can see that, you are better equipped to make a fresh choice.
It takes time to retrain a lifelong habit—even when you can see yourself teetering on the brink of giving in to it. A student at a mindfulness workshop came to me discouraged, saying, “I got angry at my boss, again. And even though I was able to see myself about to blow my top…I exploded anyway.”
When you are able to stay with whatever shows up—including the repulsive, the disruptive, and more than likely a heap of unfairness—you may find new ways to work skillfully with what’s beyond your control.
This was music to my ears. I was thrilled to hear he had noticed what was happening as it was happening—even if, that time, he still reacted. If you approach your practice with the expectation that it will make you as calm as a plastic novelty Buddha, you may become disheartened when you still feel unruly and aggravated—in other words, when you are still you. A perfectly fine you.
Take a broad view for a moment. If you can break out of the bubble of your personal experience, you’ll notice that you are part of humanity, essentially no different from anybody else. You will have to deal with life’s difficulties, no matter where you live, who you know, or what you have. When you are able to stay with whatever shows up—including the repulsive, the disruptive, and more than likely a heap of unfairness—you may find new ways to work skillfully with what’s beyond your control.
It takes practice to be able to take things less personally. It takes practice to see the delicious-looking worm hiding the hook and choose not to bite. And most of all, it takes practice to be kind to ourselves throughout, staying present to the entire unfolding show: one breath, one thought, one choice at a time.
This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.