I have been tired and short-tempered with those I love. I have been hungry and snapped at a co-worker. I have taken a close friend for granted and barely noticed it. I’ve forgotten something really important to someone I care about a lot. I’ve made big mistakes at work that were avoidable if only I’d noticed this or that. I’ve taken my fears out on the people around me. In so many cases I could have done so much better.
That’s a small part of my confession but as you know, if we’re honest we could all write that. The older we get the more entangled our lives become, the more responsibilities we have the more likely we are to screw some up, and if you have kids then you have the added joy of seeing some of your weakest moments being recreated in person and in living colour by your very own children. It’s enough to make us all wince.
The wincing is nice in that it’s a demonstration that you really are the good person you want to be. You only feel badly because your nature is to do better but, while a brief recognition of a missed opportunity is valuable, you don’t want to dwell there lest you lose the moment. We cannot act in the past or in the future so we must stay present.
Presence means we must immediately accept what’s happened and then proceed from there. If you just spilled grape juice on your friend’s new white carpet, worrying, getting mad or profusely apologising will be much less useful than taking those same present moments and using them to soak up and clean grape juice. This isn’t denying that there was an alternate future without grape juice, it’s just saying that spending time living in that alternate reality only prevents you from succeeding in this one.
Tolerance is also critical to human success. It is the cushion between the impact of a mistake and ourselves. Without that cushion we become billiard balls, where one hits another sending it to carom off yet another and on and on until the energy behind the original impact has played out. That is all nature without awareness. Once we add awareness we can impact how nature unfolds. Yes, the angles of the billiard balls will always make logical sense, but if there’s some cushioning, that will serve to drastically reduce how far the mistake can rebound. That cushioning exists within your consciousness.
When we say that things are going “wrong” what we mean is they are not meeting our expectations. Expectations are a regular generation of a forward-living ego, so we all do it–the question is do you remember that people do that while they’re doing it? Do you see their frustrated reactions as new billiard balls striking you, or do you add some cushioning with your consciousness by keeping in mind that we all get caught up in these moments and that they too might be rebounding from an impact of their own?
You can yell back at an unreasonable person’s yelling but that will just keep them in their elevated “the world’s not going right” state of mind and that will prolong the experience. Or, you could be peaceful, recognising that we all get in this state and that the only thing that will fix it will be internal peace. You can’t argue someone into peace with logic. You can only let them surrender back into peace by giving them room. You’d like some room when you’re in that state. So if you’d like that room in the future, try getting it by modelling it to those around you right now, as they’re struggling.
It’s good for us to have ideals for behaviour to strive toward but we should never mistake our ideals for expectations. I prefer it when people are polite because it makes it all easier and enjoyable for both parties, but if they can’t be then I’ll do my utmost to model it back even when it’s not coming towards me because when I’m the other person and in a poor mental state, what’ll bring me back fastest is someone modelling better, more productive behaviour.
It’s obviously a skill to learn to stay peaceful in the face of bluster but it’s a lot easier when we remember that we too can get that way in the right circumstances. That small bit of empathy during a difficult time can be what reconnects us to the upset person and that connection alone can be the defining force in their conversion to their higher self.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.