"When the storyline starts, we can do the tonglen practice of exchanging ourselves for others. In this way everything we meet has the potential to help us cultivate compassion and reconnect with the spacious, open quality of our minds."--Pema Chodron, from Comfortable with Uncertainty
In my lessons in Buddhism, I've learned that I need to be aware when I start to spin off into my own storyline. We all have a storyline, a running narrative with ourselves as the star. When someone gets in our way or is rude or dismissive, we take this personally and the rage becomes a part of our daily storyline. Being as reactive as I am, I find myself going along, not feeling particularly moody, when all of a sudden, Bam! the counter person in a taqueria where I've stopped to get a chicken burrito is rude to me . Bam! A woman steps in front of me to get on the train, causing me to be the last person to board even though I was the first one there. I end up having to exit the car because I'm standing on the stairs nearest the T conductor, and then I have to wait for another train, which makes me late for an appointment. Bam! I'm at the gym, weary from a difficult workout, and in the locker room I find that someone has laid out all their things on the bench in front of my locker, so I only have one small end for my own things. I employ the passive aggressive technique of kicking her sneakers away from my locker, knowing full well that she's right there, curling her stupid hair in the mirror and looking at me in the reflection. Instead of feeling better, I feel more angry, and just a little silly.
If only I had stopped a minute and said to myself, "Is this really all about me? Really?" Maybe that taqueria guy was rude because he's got a stressful home life. Maybe the woman who stepped in front of me to board the train didn't even see me. Maybe the woman who had strewn her stuff all over the bench was just dense and didn't realize she was being thoughtless. Is that making excuses for people? I don't know. All I know is I'm terribly angry today and kind of depressed, too (depression is anger turned inward, though right now my anger is definitely focused outward!) It would be nice to find a different way of thinking, one that didn't involve clenched teeth and the desire to step on someone's foot.
I bought a light box to put on my desk at work. Light therapy is supposed to help the winter blues, so I'm counting on it to help me. It's cold and snowy here in Boston, and we're only at the beginning of my least favorite month of the year. I've been trying to distract myself from bad feelings by doing some online shopping (Rue La La has some pretty good sample sale deals) and thinking about my trip to Paris at the end of June. And I try to get lots of hugs and kisses from my husband, Mike. One of the things that I love about him is that, although he gets easily angry like I do, he's also capable of being very affectionate. Doting even.
On a Pema audio book I was listening to over the weekend, Pema suggests spending a week thinking about someone who loves you and doing everything you can to receive that love. I'll bite. But is there anyone else besides my husband who loves me even when I'm at my brattiest? My mother, certainly. The cat likes me, but only because I regularly feed and scratch her. She does not love me when I chase her away from the pumpkin tea cake on the counter. I'm not sure about my two best girlfriends--I mean, I think they love me and wouldn't bolt if I showed my anger or stubborness, but I haven't really put them to the test (well, maybe I have, I just didn't know it at the time!)
So I invite you to also try the Pema homework--think about the people or animals that love you best, and try to receive that love fully and openly. This is the first step to being capable of loving back. Ultimately, if we can learn to love ourselves and the people we're closest to, eventually we can learn to love strangers and not blame them for disrupting our life or our good mood. That's the theory, anyway.