This post will be less about shaking ya ass and more about watching yourself, but damn, I love that song.
(Side note: I apologize for the delay in posts. I started my new job, which I love, and it’s been a hectic transition. In the spirit of always adapting, I will now be posting twice a week (at least) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)
This post is about another tactic I use for managing difficult emotions (anger, embarrassment, nostalgia, regret, sadness, etc.). Contrary to the content of my recent blog posts, I am actually a difficult person to ruffle, but keeping a constant calm is something I strive toward daily.
In his book Awareness, Anthony de Mello derides the unawake,
Normally the way it goes, I press a button and you’re up; I press another button and you’re down. And you like that. How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human, we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey, so everybody can twist your tail, and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more.
Does that response cycle sound familiar?
At the restaurant, my emotions were magnified tenfold because of the close quarters and fast pace. Every time I was angry, I was near tears. Every time someone complimented me, I flounced around in my dress for the rest of my shift. But it being a restaurant, the negative remarks got to be a whole lot more frequent than the positive ones.
I finally decided I was exhausted of the ups and downs. There had to be a better way to deal with tough emotion!
So yes, I started doing the breathing technique. I started repeating over and over again, “The boat is empty. The boat is empty. The boat is empty.” Those helped, but they didn’t rid me of the knot that stayed in my stomach long after a negative encounter. I would continually replay the interaction in my head, get myself worked up again and again.
I was the worst kind of monkey! Pull my tail and I’m down for days.
Then I came upon a small part in Charlotte Beck’s Everyday Zen that struck me:
Student: You said that as time goes on [in the practice of Zen] the ups and downs, the upsets, begin to dwindle until they just peter out?
Joko: I am not implying that there will not be upsets. What I mean is that when we get upset, we don’t hold onto it. If we become angry, we are just angry for a second….Being what we are at each moment means, for example, fully being our anger when we are angry….There is no clinging to the anger, no mental spinning with it.
At the same time, I was reading about de Mello’s notion of “self-observation.” We shouldn’t identify with our emotions (i.e. I am depressed.), but should instead watch them pass through us with no judgment (i.e. Ah, yes. I see depression floating through my mind again. I’ll watch it go.).
So let’s return to the restaurant.
One of my servers comes over to inform me I’m incompetent and he should be seated next. He huffs away.
As in every single moment of our lives, I stand at a crossroads. I can react according to how I’ve been treated. I could stew at the hostess stand for hours about how immature my coworkers are. About how much better I am than this job.
I could keep myself going all day!
Or, I could watch the anger come into my body, let it fill me up. Watch it without judgment. “Ah, this is how I am responding to those comments.” Slowly, it will leave. It may take several hours or days of observing one’s anger without judgement until it finally dissipates. But rather than being almost sick with anger for all that time, we are learning about our reactions. We are capable of breathing and watching. And that’s it. Don’t judge yourself for getting angry. It happens. We respond to stimuli.
But you can determine how your reaction colors your time.
We have much too little time alive to waste it being sick with anger, sadness, anxiety. When you feel yourself consumed by your reaction, step back and see what’s passing through.
As de Mello writes, “Don’t interfere. Don’t ‘fix’ anything. Watch! Observe!”