I’ve noticed the past few weeks that people are irritating me. Actually in some cases, I’ve even gotten angry. I finally snapped out of my mindless state yesterday and spent some time reflecting on what’s really going on.
In one case, a good friend of mine came over to help me with my landscaping project. Naturally, we ended up having to run to a home improvement store and she started getting very agitated over having to stand in line. Then she started making judgmental statements about the clerk and how she must not know what she’s doing. It made me extremely uncomfortable and I had the thought that I should not go to the store with her in tow again.
Someone else had an over-the-top defensive reaction to a comment I made about the way something looked outside. I had the thought that I shouldn’t share my opinions anymore with that person. That same person also got angry at a big box store over someone they thought was cutting in line. Again, shouldn’t go shopping with that person anymore either.
The regular alley trash invasion occurred last week and instead of just rummaging through my recycle bin, the person also hit the regular trash can, which in this case held 22 dead fish. Those fish who died over a couple of days from some disease in the pond were wrapped tightly in plastic to minimize the smell. This person opened those bags to see what was inside and the stench for the next two days made it difficult to enjoy being in the backyard. I had the thought that I wasn’t going to leave the cans out anymore.
Then there was my membership problem at said big box store. I was triple charged for my annual fee and when I tried to clear it up and get a refund, I was told that there was nothing they could do because it takes 24 hours for the charges to go through the system, so they couldn’t “see” that I was triple-charged, even though I had a printed receipt. I had the thought that I was never renewing my membership again.
What these examples have in common is that I was operating on the assumption that the problem was with these other people, but upon reflection, the problem is with me. They are no different than they’ve ever been. Well, I do think there’s been a big decline in customer service lately, but it’s rarely been pleasant to have to deal with a customer service problem. What is different is I now want them to be different because their behavior makes me uncomfortable in some way.
Think about how selfish that actually sounds. I want you to change so that I can be more comfortable. Oops. That’s not only selfish, but it’s pretty mindless. It is not other people’s job to accommodate my ease. It’s my job to process and respond to my own discomfort. And sure, I can stop going anywhere with other people and I can cut off the people who need my recyclables to make money and I can never go shopping again, but that doesn’t sound like very healthy options to whatever’s actually bothering me.
Many of us get stuck in this cycle, at least periodically. Other people’s behavior bothers us and we think, if only they would change, everything would be fine. But there are 7.8 billion people in the world. Is it really reasonable to expect them all to change to meet my needs? Of course not.
Clearly it’s time to do the work. That inner work that is sometimes painful, sometimes irritating, sometimes boring. I haven’t fully deciphered what’s up with me, but as I mentioned last week, I think I’m burned out - so part of the problem is probably plain old fatigue. I also only recently began going out of the house with other people, so there’s probably some stress in just being in a crowded store - and that can be exhausting to manage in itself, without having to worry about the person I’m with freaking out.
There’s also some self-judgment going on because of course, I’m supposed to be better than this. I practice mindfulness for a living for goodness sake, so why am I failing at these simple interactions? I think many of us get stuck in something similar to this, too, whenever we aren’t living up to our own expectations.
And that may be the most important aspect of this. Expectations. I can choose what my expectations are of other people and of myself. And if any of us don’t meet those expectations, I can react in unhealthy, mindless ways, or I can explore those expectations and make adjustments.
The first step I took was to forgive myself for creating unreasonable expectations of others and for judging myself harshly. Part of being human is being flawed and that’s okay. We’re never going to be perfect, but we can certainly self-correct as we move through life. But we need to do so in a loving, self-compassionate way. If I’m exhausted, I need self-care, not self-criticism.
I decided to spend a full day alone, doing something peaceful, re-setting, resting and recharging. That should help me get re-centered. And I set up a locking system for the trash cans so that no one can rummage through them, but added a wastebasket to my alley collection that’s just for bottles and cans. Now they can collect the recyclables and I don’t have to worry about a smelly mess again. I spent the half-hour necessary on the phone with the big box corporate office to get my refunds and intentionally practiced patience during the process, which only strengthens my mindfulness skills.
There are always solutions to our problems and we actually have all of the answers, if we just pause and pay attention. With the exception of the trash, all of my recent problems were simply in my own head. Mindfulness meditation helped clear out the clutter so that I could see that. And the trash problem, not the person, was not that complicated.
Our upsets in life are never really about the events, they are our response to those events. I do sometimes forget that myself, but the more we practice mindfulness, the quicker we remember that we have a choice and if we’re struggling, it’s probably because we’re making poor choices. And typically, they’re not even conscious choices.
Mindfulness is about waking up. Paying attention. When our minds slip into judgments, frustration and even anger, we tend to be on auto-pilot and it can be self-destructive. It colors everything in a negative light, making us even more sensitive to other people’s behavior and more critical of our own.
So I choose to wake back up, pay attention and adjust my perspective. I intend to take a pause before engaging with others in public and make sure I’m centered and calm before embarking on any excursions. And as I recently mentioned, I’m lightening my workload for a while to allow myself to rest and feel motivated again.
I don’t need anyone to change for me to feel at ease. I just need to be mindful and take better care of myself. How about you? Have you noticed how you’re being in the world? Have you given any thought as to your expectations of yourself and others? Perhaps now is a good time to meditate and reflect. It’s definitely a good time to remember that we can’t change other people, only ourselves.
Life’s definitely not easy, but it doesn’t have to cause us unease. We have the power to decide how we want to address life’s challenges, big and small, and how our choices can either enhance our lives and those around us, or not. But what’s the upside of choosing not to?
I think many of us have sort of fallen off our paths lately because we’ve been overloaded with changes and challenges, but the one and only thing we have control over is ourselves. That means we can respond differently to the events we’re facing and find meaning in them, along with compassion and joy. And couldn’t we all use a little more compassion and joy?
Until next time. We can live better lives and create a better world. All it takes to get started is a mindful moment.