For most of this month I’ve been isolated at a beach house in North Carolina, writing. It’s off-season so there’s no one around, and I stocked up on groceries so I hardly even have to venture to the deserted grocery store. So my opportunity to bring the practice out into the world has been mostly been limited to a few customer service agents I’ve had to talk to on the phone.
See how I automatically said “had to talk to” about those poor customer service agents? I kept putting off those calls because, like most of us, the thought of them makes me automatically brace myself for a trip on the frustration-aggravation- anger train. But prepared with all my metta and mindfulness, I decided to work with that. I practiced letting go of my expectations and engaging with the people on the other end of the line like good souls with the best intentions, rather than robots programmed to piss me off. And it worked!
Then this past weekend I had to make a sudden trip back to civilization for a family thing. When someone cut me off on the highway I heard myself follow my instinctive “Fuck you” with an exhale and the wish “May you be happy.” That made me laugh, a good example of how the practice starts to cycle back on us and reinforce itself…
That is until my whole family came into the picture. Almost immediately my dad, who I rarely get to see, said something that struck a deep, raw nerve. I reacted emotionally, he did the same, and things started to escalate from there. For a few minutes it felt like I was watching a scene in a movie I had no control over. But after a few minutes of getting caught up in it I was able to take a breath, calm down, articulate why I’d been upset, and listen to my dad’s explanation for what he’d said. We both acknowledged each other’s experience of being hurt and offended, and realized just how interconnected our programming is that caused those reactions. We both apologized. Then we started again, with more awareness and empathy for one other and ourselves. It felt like my practice failed me in that situation, but sometimes in the real world of relationships, it’s not that simple.