I am annoyed with one of my co-workers. I feel my body tighten at the sound of his laugh, an email he forwarded. I am ready with a beleagured sigh before he even opens his mouth to speak. Even the sight of his slightly too-short Dockers starts my eyes rolling.
I don't always feel this way about him — only the last couple of days. I have felt this way before, though. And I know that the issue is not any of the minor details about his existence that my mind is grasping on to. The issue is I'm tired. The issue is I feel overwhelmed, nibbled to death by ducks.
Sharon Salzberg offers advice for this sort of thing in this week's section on Mindfulness and Emotions in "Real Happiness: The power of meditation." She gives four steps to deal with emotions mindfully.
— Recognize. You can't figure out how to deal with an emotion unless you recognize that you're experiencing it. In this case, it's anger at the fact that I'm doing work while he's chatting with people (which conveniently ignores the time I spent checking Facebook earlier in the day).
— Acceptance. We tend to resist or deny certain feelings, particularly if they're unpleasant. But in our meditation practice, we're open to whatever arises. I don't want to feel angry at my co-worker. He's basically a nice guy. He's happy to help out — when he's asked. My tendency is suppress the anger — because I think it's illegitimate, given my own goofing-off time and his willingness to assist — but then it comes out in eye-rolls and sighs when we interact. It comes out in annoyance at the length of his pants, for pete's sake.
— Investigate. Instead of running away from the emotion, we move closer to it. For me, this starts by going back to Week 2 and mindfulness of body. What am I feeling in my body? Clenched teeth. Tension that spreads down my arms and into fingers pounding the keyboard. Tightness in my neck, even my legs. What this does, Salzberg says, is allows you to unhook from the object of the feeling. The focus is no longer my co-worker. When we're neither pushing away from a negative situation nor wallowing in it, we can respond with a new form of intelligence rather than a knee-jerk reaction.
Not identifying with the emotion. Instead of confusing a temporary state with your total self, you come to see that your emotions arise, last a while, then disappear. I am not an angry person. He is not always annoying. Sometimes we both are those things. Sometimes we switch places. Sometimes we work together with clarity and precision and cooperation.
Important point here: Mindfulness practice isn't meant to eliminate thinking but to let us know what we're thinking.
By Nancy Thompson