Last night was a case in point. My computer failed to load a new plugin correctly. Big deal, right? I poked around looking for a way to fix it so I could get on with watching the video I’d loaded. It was our date night and this was not what I’d had in mind.
Next to me M sat quietly until she finally said: “let me know if you want me to say anything”. I was annoyed and frustrated and when I finally gave up and asked for her input, my feelings showed. She hesitantly proposed a few options, but they didn’t work either. I was getting angrier and angrier. Until I just got up and went into my room and slammed the door.
Eventually I figured out the problem, on my own, in my room – but I didn’t feel good. Because the way I treated M wasn’t right. And it’s been happening more and more. I’m confronted with something, an obstacle or complex task, and instead of collaborating to come up with a solution, I lash out in frustration and we go our separate ways.
Maybe it’s because I simply don’t trust that another person can possibly want to work on something with me. Or maybe it’s because I feel, deep down, my other failures percolating and the obstacle in front of me simply reinforces the low opinion I already hold of myself.
I know when I’m being a jerk; I watch myself as if I were a third person in the room. And yet, some mental block stops me from interrupting the behaviour. Then the guilt sets in: I’m quick to anger, quick to give up, and M walks around feeling like she’s walking on egg-shells. That right there, is not good enough. I hate that I make her, or anyone, feel like that.
Lately I’ve been embracing the practice of repeating in my mind – at different times during the day – a quality in myself that I would like to develop. I was inspired by a recent Insight Meditation talk by Gil Fronsdal where he discussed the merits of establishing what he termed Reference Points throughout the day to reinforce the values by which you wish to live. This week the word I chose was ‘ease’.
By nature I’m a worrier, and one of my many diagnoses over the years has been generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t put much stock in these types of labels. Seems to me if you put a label like that on someone it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, something that a person might claim as a permanent character flaw or as something that they are rather than looking at changing the conditions that created those feelings.
But what the word captures is the sense of panic that has been present for too much of my life. I could easily spend days, months, years analyzing where the panic started and why it has been so persistent (growing up with a father who was constantly on the verge of death due to severe health issues, being raised by a mother who had little love for me, living in a country steeped in violence and hurt for a good chunk of my formative years, losing friends to suicide, losing my father and eventually the support of my family). But at this point I think I already have a good grasp of why I exist in a state of perpetual fear.
Creating reference points is a way of putting aside the past for a moment and focusing on the present and future, on the person I aspire to be every day, and making small steps – day by day – to actually being that person. That’s the approach I’m choosing to take.
The practice didn’t do me much good last night, as the rage just bubbled over and flooded every other emotion. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes. The trick is to keep going.