If you are like me, then you tend to be a bit hyperbolic in your reaction to normal, run of the mill, everyday kind of inconveniences. These flubs in my day to day can elicit a reaction which is not particularly helpful or warranted. More often than not it is not what I would call a ‘measured response.’
An example: The other day I misplaced my wallet in my home for ~ 15 minutes. I couldn’t find it anywhere, it wasn’t in its proper place, and I combed the house for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes of searching, I threw myself down on my couch where I decided that I knew what had happened to my wallet: it was stolen, and by now someone was draining my bank account and stealing my identity. I was pretty angry and frustrated with this imagined thief and with myself for allowing something like this to happen.
About 5 minutes later I found the wallet in the front pocket of my computer bag….
It seems like a lot of people I know have this kind of tendency to catastrophize, to blow their reactions to what they experience way out of proportion. I am sure this can’t be good for our blood pressure, our anxiety and Lord knows it isn’t good for our souls. It causes anger, resentment, frustration, and a sense of inflated self-importance which then can lead us to places of shame and guilt. All of these are functions of our ego driven desire to have everything function perfectly, for our vision of our life to be realized every single day without having anything else throw it off our rails.
But the spiritual life teaches us that there is a center to the universe and it’s not us. Our days are going to be filled with all sorts of unexpected hiccups along the way, we can’t control that, but we can learn to measure our response.
Learning a measured response is part of the contemplative life, the contemplative practice. Accepting our exaggerated, ego driven reactions, letting them drift into our consciousness, observing them with humility and acceptance that they are in fact part of us, and surrendering to that which is greater and more patient that we are, the one I call God. The great spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once said, ‘whenever I sense anger arise within me, I become mindful of my breathing, embrace that anger as my friend and release it gently.’
I feel like if we lived this way it might make things like traffic, COSTCO checkout lines, losing our wallets or even the politics streaming in our Facebook feed, a more measured part of our awesome and sacred existence. We might see ourselves and one another not as some inconvenience or adversary, but as a mystery to be explored. Oh and maybe we could learn to laugh at ourselves a little bit more, not in a self-deprecating way, but in a humble making kind of way. Maybe we could live into this wacky dream of a calm, centered and compassionate life, because I really do think it’s possible, by the grace of God.