I’m sweeping my kitchen floor, spraying the bathroom with things, filling the sink, throwing laundry into the washing machine. My to-do list says that I’m writing at the moment, but my house has deteriorated while I’ve been working on big projects, and I really want it to be tidy. I even have, “House beautiful” down as one of my four priorities for this month… so I’m cleaning the house and writing a blog post in my mind. Contemplating actually adding four hours a week during the day to do house work – especially since large parts of my writing are about engaging directly in systems of support.
In the middle, I pause to listen to my inner dialogue. There’s a little niggling bit at the back of my mind saying, “I shouldn’t have to do this. I have a family. They have all their limbs. Why doesn’t anybody else see this?” This could totally turn into anger and resentment.
Stop. Label it thinking. Come back to the broom.
This is my priority. This is where I want our collective energies to be directed. I know enough about boundaries, constructions of reality, and communication to know that our inner worlds are not aligned.
This is where the rubber hits the road, meditationally speaking : Am I going to let other people’s action/non-action dictate my state of mind?
If I am cut off in traffic, and I find myself yelling and waving my arms… who’s suffering here? The other driver is long gone. It doesn’t matter whether they were in the wrong in the first place; I am now doing it to myself.
My boss is a jerk! Changed the deadline, changed the scope, yelled at me in front of my co-workers, sat on a completed project for six weeks before signing off on it and then complained about my productivity!
All of those things can be true. And if you go home at the end of the day and stew upon them, miss your evening with your friends and family, ruminate, fantasize, or just plain worry, you’ve carried the boss’s energy with you and taken it into your body. Now you’re being a jerk to yourself.
Now, stay with me here. Because I’m not suggesting that it’s just fine that your boss is a Big Jerk. I’m not suggesting that the balm of meditation should be applied and you should just get back in that ring. This is a level of self-control that is absurd, and it transfers all the boss’s emotional labour onto you. Sure. Boss needs to learn to communicate clearly, find their own inner peace, and recognize the experiences of frustration and anxiety without discharging them onto everybody surrounding them. HOWEVER!!! If you wait for Boss to do that before you’re going to let yourself be calm, you’re probably gonna be waiting a long, long… looooooooonnng time.
There are actions that must be taken. Skillful means. There may be a change of venue in your future.
In the meantime, though, I offer this possibility: you can take back that power. It’s a learnable skill. Ten deep breaths and a choice not to bite the hook (as Pema Chodron puts it), and you can have your afternoon back. In principle.
This is why we practice: so that, in the moment, we can remember.
“Ah, yes. I’ve done this before. I may have had this exact conversation (in my mind, in the moments of not attending the breath.) I know how to come back.” The more we do it, the more it becomes second nature.
And on that note, I’m going to go clean the bathroom and put the laundry in the drier, because I would rather spend the evening playing board games than snarling at my kids.