Life will never fail to offer you opportunities to practice patience and compassion. Challenging people or circumstances can be incredible teachers. We can’t control who or what shows up on the path in front of us, but we can choose our response. You can look at the surface of a person and judge or condemn them, and when I say the surface, I don’t mean their appearance, I mean their way of being. The quality they’re bringing to whatever it is they’re doing. There’s a whole complex world happening under the surface, and you may not get a glimpse into it. If you see someone on line ahead of you at the supermarket, for example, and you notice they’re talking loudly on their cellphone while the person behind the register is trying to ring them up, all kinds of thoughts and labels might stream through your mind. The minute you start thinking, “selfish, inconsiderate, unaware, self-absorbed, thoughtless”, you’ve lowered your own vibration. You’ve made a decision to become a character in their story. The disgruntled, righteous shopper! You could take that same moment to come back to your breath. To catch yourself if you’re starting to spin toward dark, hopeless thinking. To remind yourself that’s their story, and it doesn’t seem to be a very happy one. You could direct your energy to the person ringing them up, and send love. You might even smile at them and wink. When it’s your turn at the register, you could make their day by being present and kind. If you really wanted to do an advanced practice, you could send some love to the person on the phone, because how many beautiful moments must they be missing? Chances to connect in a meaningful way with other human beings, lost because they’re somewhere else.
It happens all the time, all day long. You’re driving along and someone cuts you off in an insane way. You get an adrenaline rush if it’s a dangerous move they’ve made; that can’t be helped, but some people become irate, as if it’s personal. They roll down their window and flip their traffic finger, yelling expletives and feeling their blood pressure go up. You might be thinking, it IS personal, I’m the one who was just cut off, but that’s on the other person, it’s not a story you have to join. They may have a genuine problem. Maybe they’re dealing with an emergency, and maybe they drive like that all the time. Who knows? Their driving persona may not sync up with the person they are most of the time. Some people have road rage. People who seem calm and reasonable in most cases can get behind the wheel of a car and do a fairly winning impression of Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Maybe your old Aunt Marge struggles with that.
Sometimes people write in about family members, and it goes something like: “This person in my life makes me feel powerless. This person makes me feel invisible. No matter what I do, this person won’t listen to me.” You can’t control other people. You can’t make someone see you or hear you or love you. It’s all a choice, but for some people they haven’t realized their own power yet. Things happen, and they react. A person says something hurtful, and they respond in kind, even though that isn’t really how they feel. We’re all having this separate experience, together. I think it’s really important to realize that. Feelings are feelings, and stories are stories. You have all these complex, often wounded people coming together interacting with each other, each with her or his own ideas about what’s happening, and all knowing that one day we will die. Not that anyone loves to think about that, but we all know it’s there. Not everyone handles it well.
Sometimes people just repeat what they know. If they weren’t treated with consideration, maybe they don’t understand the concept. Maybe they grew up in a house where no one ever stopped to really listen to them, where they had little to no impact on the world around them. Maybe they grew up thinking what they said and what they did didn’t matter much to anyone. Or maybe everything was handed to them, and perhaps they grew up thinking other people were there to serve them. Can you imagine a childhood where you thought you were to be served? Isn’t that sad? The best thing in life is being of service, of feeling you’re able to make a meaningful contribution to the people and the world around you. Imagine if no one ever taught you that. Would it be nice if you figured it out on your own along the way? Of course, but we never know what another person needs in order to grow and learn and be happy. Perhaps you’re crossing paths with them at a time when they still have a lot to understand. Does anything good come from condemning them? Is it any kind of reflection on you if a person can’t see you, or doesn’t know how to be kind and compassionate?
The thing is, you only get so many minutes in a day. Life doesn’t have a rollover plan for wasted moments. And you can let the challenging people you encounter, or the difficult situations you may face rob you of entire afternoons if you aren’t careful, but I don’t recommend it. Life will bring enough for you to deal with; it’s plenty of work keeping your own side of the street clean. You might try something if you feel like it. When I wake up in the morning, I remind myself of all the amazing gifts I have to be grateful for, starting with having another day to open my eyes and be in my body and hug my children and love people firecely and try to do something meaningful with my time, something that might be helpful to someone else. Most of the time things work out pretty well that way. I don’t succeed in every moment of every day, of course. I’m a human being, and there are times I’m deeply disappointed in myself. Especially if I realize I allowed too many moments that could have been beautiful become sour instead. But I think when you move through the world with that idea of spreading love, of being in love, you’re a lot less likely to get thrown off center for too long. It’s easy to love the people who are awesome; thoughtful and present and open and full of life. It’s harder to love those who push our buttons. But if we ever want peace, that’s the work, to love those people we can’t understand. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with them. And to remember when we’re confronted, we really never know someone’s struggles, fears, doubts, shame, or old wounds unless they share them with us. People who’ve been badly hurt usually have some pretty solid walls built up. It’s not easy for everyone to tear them down and be vulnerable. I’m saying, whenever possible, practice compassion, and then get back to the work of choosing love as your storyline. It makes the journey a lot more fun.
Sending you love,