I don’t know about you, but I can make a bad situation a whole lot worse by being reactive to a negative circumstance or someone else’s bad mood. In my training with Christopher Germer (one of the co-founders of Mindful Self-Compassion), he recommended making a habit out of wishing compassion for those grumpy people we encounter. A silent compassionate wish for another person can take the edge off your reactivity as you change your stance from irritation to acknowledging the other person’s suffering. Often this is achieved by first recognizing one’s own suffering in the situation; then turning a compassionate lens to another. I will give you an example.
After a long flight home from Greece, my husband and I gathered our luggage and made our way to our car. When my husband tried the ignition, it became evident that the battery was dead. He had inadvertently left the interior light on in the car. The next realization was that my cell phone was dead after spending two weeks locked in the glove compartment. My first thought “How could he have been so careless?” was followed by a string of “poor me” thoughts: “I’m so tired, we are going to be here all night waiting for CAA, now I won’t be able to function tomorrow, this is going to be expensive…” etc. etc. At the same time my husband was getting really angry with himself – making self-critical statements and slamming the car door. I thought to myself – if you say anything to him right now you will make things a whole lot worse. I closed my eyes and with a hand over my heart said “this is a moment of suffering, let me be kind to myself in this moment, and may my husband be safe and be at peace”. I took some deep breaths and then got out of the car and spoke to my husband as gently as I could. “It was an honest human mistake and this is why we have CAA”. I then went back into the airport, found an outlet, plugged the phone in and called CAA. I know for certain that had I voiced my first thoughts it would have resulted in a great deal more suffering, poor problem solving and likely a terrible two hour drive home. Mindfully attending to my suffering allowed me to be calmer, which then allowed me to tune into my husband’s suffering.
It’s not just the big suffering we need to tune into either; often it’s the little things like waiting in long line ups or traffic jams that can trigger a bad mood that can wreck our day. Instead of engaging in grumbling and negative thinking remind yourself “this is a moment of suffering … may the people in these cars be safe and be at peace”. This one small silent wish can change your response from annoyance to having more patience. It is surprising how this can help you get through your day with fewer moments of moodiness and improve your relationships.
Give it a try and let me know if you notice any difference…
Cathy & Patricia