As the years roll by, I become increasingly convinced that spirituality isn’t just about our personal relationship with an ethereal Divine. I believe it is also about learning to cultivate love for all life’s creatures–especially when it’s challenging. Especially when our loved ones are being emotionally distant or crabby or are failing to actively listen to us and acknowledge our concerns. Especially when we’re being slowed down or cut off by other drivers in our pursuit of getting where we need to go on our afternoon commute. Especially–even–when we’re being distracted from the day’s work by the banging of hammers and the scraping of metal, when we’re wholly at the mercy of the seemingly ceaseless noise and activity of construction workers.
We’re often left wondering how can we practice love for others when their personalities and habits are constantly chafing up against us or when something they’ve said or done is a let down or disappointment. Because let’s be perfectly honest–loving adults isn’t always as easy.
It feels so much easier to muster affection for the youngest of children–and even they can try our patience. Yet there’s something about their naked vulnerability and sparkly newness to life that effortlessly endears us to them. We find little children refreshing in their honesty, transparent in their motivations and yet unscathed by the harsh ways of the world. The youngest among us make us giggle and smile in spite of ourselves, evoking positive emotions simply for being themselves. They innocently toddle through our lives, having no idea the mighty waves of impact they leave in their teeny-footed wake. We want to warmly embrace them, yet fiercely protect them all at the same time.
Adults, however, can be truly difficult to conjure up a genuinely loving thought or express a kind gesture toward when they have slighted, shamed or defamed us. And sometimes, when we’re dealing with strangers–especially online–we feel a gaping emotional disconnect that creates a sort of amnesia of our capacity for empathy and compassion. Most of the time, however, by slightly shifting and softening our gaze, we can find some measure of benevolence–or at least, less animosity–towards all those, young and old, who share the world with us.
Shifting and Softening Our Gaze of Perspective
By adjusting our perspective–figuratively putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes–we might then be able to realize the older driver beside us can barely see out of the boat she’s driving, that she’s holding on for dear life to the wheel to try to steer her path without a wreck. Will an extra three minutes tacked onto our drive really ruin the rest of our day? Chances are high that no, it won’t. Rather than curse out the driver slowing our roll, can we instead spend those extra minutes immersed in a song we thoroughly love on the radio, belting out the words with pleasure and reckless abandon?
Cocking the head a bit, we might also be able to recognize that our partner has had a long and harrowing day at the office, that the fact that he doesn’t want to completely rehash the day is his own version of self care. What might we be able do to make the transition from work to home easier and less stressful for our partner? Surely not with an endless recounting of our own day’s frustrations. Might we start to appreciate that our lover’s desire to wait until he’s fully present enough to hear about our own day is a beautiful sign of his self awareness that he needs to unravel his own monkey mind before he can consciously take in our own? Surely there are others we can reach out to instead, if we so desperately need to vent. In fact, isn’t there at least one good friend whose call needs returning, another loved one who is eager and ready to mutually kvetch and encourage?
As for the noise and distraction of unexpected construction work…let’s just say that the events of my yesterday were a true test of my ability to soften my gaze. My husband was leaving for a business trip, so I had grand ambitions for the next few days, from finishing up two articles and catching up in all three of my classes to going to my first Toastmaster’s meeting and joining a women’s barbershop chorus for their latest rehearsal. I also planned to practice my music, meditate and do yoga and qigong daily. First, though, I had new work assignments to tackle, and I planned to speak on the phone with my employer in the morning to make sure that we were on the same page. Cell service has been nonexistent in the house for the last month since I had to replace my last iPhone, so I had to play chase-the-signal down the stairs, out the side of the house and around the porch. While trying to listen carefully to the guidelines and expectations explained over the phone in a heavy accent, my landlord and his fellow handyman were walking and talking loudly around me, oblivious to my needs.
Afterward, I had a pleasant enough conversation with my landlord, clearing up any misunderstandings about the surprise work visit from the previous day. I invited him to continue the work in our place earlier in the day rather that waiting another couple hours. I figured that the sooner he started, the sooner he would finish–but oh, how wrong I was!
When the men entered our place, I was informed that additional work would need to be done in our bedroom before the planned project was completed. Fortunately, that work was quiet and went by fairly quickly, for which I was extremely grateful. Unfortunately, my own work was a bit more complicated than I expected. I had numerous questions that needed answering and numerous technical problems and minor misunderstandings delayed progress. I glanced at the clock and realized I would miss my noon Toastmaster’s meeting, so I hopped onto the website to cancel.
Work on the house began in earnest, with loud banging and drilling right under my office. Distracted and annoyed for an hour, I decided to go run a few errands and take a brief walk on the bike trail near my house. As soon as I put my backpack on to hit the trail, I received a work text message. After the praise from earlier, now came the problems. I closed the car door, restarted the engine and headed back out to the street.
Nearby, I did the most crucial errands at town hall and the library, where I thankfully was treated with courtesy and swiftness. I then had to make a quick stop to the grocery store, which involved the “parking lot from hell.” By the time I returned back to my home office, I was hot and irritated by the obliviousness of my fellow drivers on the road.
However, when I pulled in, my landlord was there to kindly help me with the door as I brought in the groceries. As I unpacked the bags, he and his fellow worker went to assess the bedroom. As I ate a comfort cupcake, my landlord informed me that more work would probably need to be done the next day and that the men would likely be back later in the day. I offered a nod and a tight smile as I went back to my work.
Putting Empathy Into Practice
The day had started to pick up a little rhythm. More edits, more assignments, more banging, sawing and drilling, more edits, more noise…you get the picture. I slapped on my headphones and tried to nurture a zone of zen calm by listening to classical, cello-heavy music. And then, somehow, I was able to find empathy and patience for my equally frazzled and technologically-challenged employer; she, in turn, was able to offer the same when our signals got crossed, and she had to wait on my corrections. I finally wrapped up my work for the day, feeling okay that I would leave the latest requests until the morning.
No longer able to wait for my landlord and his partner to be done, I started making dinner. Rather than grumble over resentment of the chore, I started to have fun playing with the fresh vegetables from the store and enjoying painting the sizzling chicken with a saturating golden spice. My landlord praised the smell of dinner, asking if it was cinnamon he smelled. I informed him I was cooking with turmeric, and the Greek chef nodded his approval and said he might have just learned something new from me. After he presented to me the newly painted radiator that was finally successfully installed in the bedroom, I was able to appreciate the fruits of the labor of these men who’d been interloping in my space.
I ate and unwound with an episode of one of my fun and frivolous shows on Netflix. As I got up to put the dishes away, I was reminded of the pinched nerves and sore muscles running across my body. All I wanted to do was take a soothing hot shower as I hopped into the tub. Freezing cold water poured out of the shower nozzle, no matter which way I turned the faucet. I jumped out, cursing.
Yet, as I texted my husband what had happened, a childlike laugh escaped from my lips unbidden. Yes, the heat was still off from the remodeling. I could have really benefited from hot water beating down on my neck and shoulders. However, if it were earlier in the warm day, and I had already done my yoga, I would be thirsting for a cool, refreshing shower. And hadn’t I been touting the anti-inflammatory benefits of natural, whole body cryotherapy by increasing the duration of the cold temperature exposure in my showers? I smiled to myself and jumped back in the tub to brave the freezing water and get myself clean.
Afterward, I felt more revived and thought about warming myself up with some gentle yoga. As I walked back to the living room, I realized that without the noise from the TV, all was not peaceful and quiet. My landlord was still working in the hallway. It was after 9 p.m., and I was ready to wind down with my elaborate pre-sleep ritual. Was this work ever going to stop?
I paused for a moment, realizing my landlord had his own day of seemingly endless hoops to jump and tasks to complete. I know he wanted to be done with his work even more than I wanted him to be. I heard his fatigue and resignation as he reassured me it would be just 20 more minutes until he was all done for the day.
I headed to the yoga mat. The extra noise forced me to more intentionally keep coming back to my breath, to keep reminding my mind and body to be present and still. How much easier it was to do so in a calm atmosphere, without any outside distractions! It was time to put mindfulness to the test: even with rattling, banging and cold water, could I still find the balance and peace deep inside me?
Loving Each Other With the Hearts of Children
Even with all the noise of emotions, feelings and nerves of frustration that arise in our daily lives, is there a way to maintain some sort of grace and dignity as we seek out a thread of relatedness to the very same people who challenge our patience? Can the best parts of us rise up to the task of reaching out just far enough to observe the best parts of me and him and her, too? By opening up our eyes and ears wide enough, perhaps we can come to see, honor and cherish the sweet higher self that resides in each one of us.
Om. I recognize and celebrate my connection with everything and everyone in the universe. Om. We work so very much better as a team when we each act from our best selves. Will you join me? Om.