Whenever we choose to explore our minds, whether directed through a practice like meditation or sitting alone on a quiet Saturday morning sipping hot tea, we begin to notice many irrational things going on around us and inside us.
A great example of this is the daily commute city dwellers embark on during the work week. Virtually the same thing happens every day, but our mood can make it seem as though one day the world is against us and the next it leaves us alone.
My fiancée, Morgan, has been particularly aware of this peculiarity in the past week, but more so as a witness than a participant. Before recounting her experiences, and some that I also happened to be around for, let me provide some background knowledge for anyone who hasn’t lived in a sizeable city before.
Public transportation systems work best when everyone respects the ethics or unwritten rules at play. Living in the District of Columbia has proven this theory through and through.
If you’re getting on the metro train, stand clear of the doors so everyone can get off the train before you rush on. When you’re using the escalators, stay on the right hand side if you are stationary and not walking up (and if you have a stroller or bicycle, use the elevator). If you are a cyclist, respect the traffic rules that vehicles follow and don’t ride on the sidewalks. If you are driving, don’t block the intersection, crosswalk, or bike lane.
All of these concepts are pretty simple to follow, but as you might expect, some people just don’t care. If it’s not 100% in their best interest, then it’s 100% inconvenient, which can create heated exchanges between complete strangers. Isn’t it interesting how much easier it is to get angry at people we don’t have any relationship with?
Morgan just so happened to witness such an exchange on more than one occasion this week, which can really skew your view of the world. She saw a pedestrian lose their cool when a car was unable to get fully across the crosswalk due to typical rush hour gridlock.
This was followed up with an intense stare down between a metro rider exiting a train and an individual failing to adhere to the no blocking the doors rule. Fortunately, in these situations the doors are opened and closed in a few seconds, so any frustrations will be expressed once the two parties are separated (most of the time).
While Morgan and I were getting dinner, sitting out on the restaurant’s patio enjoying the spring weather, a cyclist came riding by while a van was backing up on the other side of the road. What I can only assume was the expectation that the vehicle was ignoring her existence, she threw her arms up at the van as she pedaled by. The van was never anywhere near her path, but I’m sure her previous experiences with negligent drivers caused a premature reaction.
Finally, after hanging out in the park near our apartment, Morgan and I were walking back when an oblivious driver continued to creep into the intersection, while a pedestrian was crossing right in front of the car. The pedestrian made the driver roll their window down so he could express his emotions with some rather colorful language. Of course the oblivious driver had no clue what was going on, which was a bit entertaining.
In all of these situations, negative outbursts were sparked by the smallest of inconveniences. On top of that, there was no way for any of these “victims” to control what life had thrown their way. So in order to bring a false sense of stability to their lives, they needed to express themselves as “in the right” and make sure their voices were heard.
Sadly, their strategy will never work. They are bound to relive their experience in the future and will likely produce the same reaction, failing to recognize the emotional energy they’re wasting.
These stories bring us to an important philosophy I’ve been working on this month via Tonglen Meditation and I invite you to try it in your life as well. As homo sapiens, we are preconditioned to provide ourselves and our loved ones with the safest environment possible. Whenever a perpetrator attempts to disrupt these safeguards, we react immediately without considering the repercussions of our actions.
This leads to a life filled without thoughtful consideration and a lack of separation from our pre-historic animalistic behaviors. In my week one update, I shared an excerpt from Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart, and I personally enjoyed it so much that I picked the book up at my local library.
I came across a passage that directly relates to our inability to be still.
“if we immediately entertain ourselves by talking, by acting, by thinking—if there’s never any pause—we will never be able to relax. We will always be speeding through our lives. We’ll always be stuck with what my grandfather called a good case of the jitters. Refraining is a way of making friends with ourselves at the most profound level possible we can be to relate with what’s underneath all the bubbles, all the stuff that comes out and expresses itself as uptight, controlling manipulative behavior, or whatever it is.”
In the stories highlighted above, if any of the individuals thought about refraining before reacting, they could remove themselves from the irrationality of the moment and find comfort in their being. The inconvenient actions of the other person would be seen in a new light. They would be able to immediately recognize the only thing in their control is their reaction and refraining from expressing negativity in this moment will leave them with greater inner peace and control.
I wish I could say I've handled my own public transportation inconveniences with self control, but there have been those rare days where I can't keep my blood from boiling. Although I can only remember one time where I expressed myself unbecomingly, it's one time too many. It accomplished absolutely nothing and the response I received was unkind, which was no more than I deserved regardless of who was at fault.
I have brought my reactive mind to my mediation sessions and have continuously battled with its chaos. The last two weeks have really shown me how out of control my internal voice can be. After coming up just short of 15 minutes of meditation in week one, I have only managed to reach 16 minutes one time in the following two weeks and my average is hovering around nine minutes.
I usually spend the first four or five minutes just trying to get my mind calm enough to even consider exploring the depths of my emotions and the emotions of those around me. I have failed to implement a truly consistent schedule with my practice, which I believe is a major cause of my inattentiveness.
I will have to spend many hours practicing before reaching the point where I can sink into a meditative state at a moment’s notice. Until then, I am hitting the reset button on my previous goal of practicing immediately after work.
I need to give my mind some lead time rather than springing into action without warning. I need my mind to expect a meditative session is on the horizon, rather than doing it at a random time each day.
Not only do I believe this strategy will allow me to have more productive sessions, I have discovered that meditating for just 15 minutes has similar effects to taking a “power nap.” I can’t think of a better way to set myself up for more productive evenings.
In my final week of this monthly challenge, I hope to extend my practice into my daily life in order to recognize the control I have in various situations. This control will usually reside with my internal reactions. I need to work on letting the external, out-of-my-control moments be as they may unless my intervening will provide a benefit to the overall wellbeing of society (e.g. bystander intervention).
With this goal in mind, I hope to share some relevant stories in my concluding post next week. Until then, I encourage you to find time this week to assess a moment in your life where you may have lashed out at someone or something, which only resulted in more negativity.
Assessing our previous actions by planning for better decisions in the future is a great way to better handle the true groundlessness of our lives. When we remove our temptation to latch onto a false sense of security, we can allow the negative energy in our lives to combine with the positive, and find a beautiful equilibrium in everything we experience.
Tell me in the comments below about a time where you reacted negatively and how you would have handled yourself differently in order to provide yourself inner peace. It can be something as simple as spilling milk on the kitchen floor (oh man how that can rustle my feathers) or a driver cutting you off in traffic (I enjoy using my horn all too often). Let's find out ways to better handle life's little inconveniences!