My partner and I have just got back from a short break in Drenthe, a province in the NE of the Netherlands. It’s a beautiful area and we got to spend lots of time in nature. We were both struck by how relaxed we were when we came home and how well we slept. It reminded me of a recent article reporting on research carried out by researchers at Exeter University in the UK and Uppsala University in Sweden. The study found that people who spend 2 hours a week in nature were ‘significantly more likely’ to report good health and psychological wellbeing.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that spending time in nature is beneficial for us. The thing is, what about all of us who live in cities and don’t get the chance to be out in nature every weekend? The study points out that you don’t need to get your two hours all in one go. Shorter, frequent doses of nature are also beneficial. It got me thinking about how to maximise the nature we have in the city, so we can really feel the benefit.
1. Start your day with a moment outside
Take a look at your morning routine. Do you have time for a cup of coffee in the garden before you start your day? Where I live in Amsterdam, most people in the city don’t have a garden but they do have a balcony. Dutch people are great balcony gardeners. It can be just wonderful to step out on to your balcony while the city is waking up. The birds make more noise than the traffic and the flowers are fresh from the cool of the morning.
2. Make sure to go out for a bit at lunch-time
Are you caught up with working through your lunch break? Maybe think about taking a short break outside. You don’t have to go far. Just find a spot under a tree, or maybe find an office window with a view. Just a few moments in the calming atmosphere of nature, outside of the busyness of your workplace will be nourishing.
A psychologist colleague of mine recently messaged me to share that she was making time to sit out in the garden in between seeing clients. What a great way to settle and prepare for a session.
3. Look at the stars
For a few years, my partner and I used to go regularly to a small cottage in rural southern France in the summer. The cottage was in a tiny village and by 10 pm most people were in bed. My partner would finish each day with some time on the terrace, just looking at the sky and the stars. He said it was a wonderful thing to just be with the night sky in the quiet.
4. Use the city parks and squares
Although I live in Amsterdam now, I am a Londoner by birth. Both cities have plenty of green areas. London is well-known for its green city squares with lovely, old trees. In Amsterdam there is a deliberate policy of planting as many trees along the streets as possible. I can stand on my balcony and look along a long street of beautiful trees. The Japanese favour forest bathing as a way of increasing your wellbeing. Even if you do not have regular access to a forest, you can get a lot of nourishment from the trees in a city. I find quite joyful to watch the birds flying in and out of the trees. The patterns of the branches against the sky can be dramatic. It helps me keep things in proportion.
5. Bring nature into your home
I came across a lovely article the other day. One of the universities in Amsterdam is opening a plant hotel. The idea is to provide a place where students can leave their plants to be cared for while they are away from the university for the summer. The university recognises the benefit to students’ wellbeing of keeping plants in their rooms and wants to support it.
We have window boxes on every window ledge in our apartment. It feels as if we are surrounded by flowers. When we look outside, we are immediately connected with nature.
Another good idea is to have a bird box by a window to encourage birds to visit. You have the benefit of watching them throughout the year.
If you do have a garden, you might consider re-wilding your lawn. By stopping regular mowing and trimming you can encourage the growth of wild flowers. This in turn will encourage bees. This is already happening along some motorways, where road side meadows are springing up.
6. Look for 5 beautiful things each day
You might like to get into the habit of looking for five beautiful things you can find in nature in your city each day. When we are busy and caught in our routine it is all too easy to miss them. Keep an eye open for a new window box in your neighbourhood, or a newly planted tree.
7. Stay mindful so you don’t miss it
In fact, a key to finding our 2 hours of nature when we live in a city is to be mindful. If we are continuously checking our phone, or always hurrying we will miss a lot. If we can be present to where we are and what we are doing, we will notice so much more. When we notice, it will help us to quieten down. So much of the beauty of nature is in its deep quietness and unhurried rhythms. We will be more deeply nourished by tuning into that
It must be one of the most dreaded moments in life—the moment when the worry that there is something wrong with your car turns into a certainty and you have to head for the hard shoulder of the motorway and search for the nearest emergency phone.
It happened to us on our way back from spending two months in our cottage in the south of France. We were fifty kilometres south of Orleans with a hotel booked in Paris. It was starting to get dark and we were waiting for the road service to arrive. Our joy on seeing the truck draw up in front of us was short-lived. The car needed a new dynamo. It was Saturday evening, and nothing would be open until Monday afternoon. There was nothing for it but for the car to go on the back of the truck and us to be transported with it.
An unexpected kindness
We felt pretty miserable as we tried to mentally re-juggle all our plans for the next few days, and there was a definite sense of being very alone and far from home. We had to stumble along the edge of the hard shoulder to get to the truck. I have been having problems with my knees for some time, which meant that I limped along well behind my partner and wondered how on earth I was going to get on board. The maintenance man spotted my difficulty and came around to help me. By guiding my feet on to the steps, he helped me make the climb. In those few moments, I felt less alone and the maintenance man became another human being, rather than a just deliverer of unwanted news.
In fact, he turned out to be a bit of a hero all round. He drove us to his garage and let down our car. Telling me to stay where I was, he directed my partner to gather together the things we would need for an over-night stay. He phoned several local hotels until he found one that could accommodate us and then he drove us there. He gave us his phone number and directions on when and how to contact him and drove off to continue his work of rescuing stranded motorists throughout the night.
A kindly hotel
The hotel we found ourselves in was a small, family-run hotel on the main street. We were greeted warmly by the lady of the house and shown to our room. As my partner struggled up the stairs with all our various bags, I followed along with my rucksack but found the stairs difficult because of my knee problem. I felt my bag lifted from my shoulders and turned to see someone who I presumed to be the daughter who had come to help. She took the bag all the way to our room.
One of the things that I find challenging about certain parts of France is that after nine o’clock it is impossible to find anything to eat. As it was now well after nine o’clock, we feared we would go to bed hungry. The hotel had a restaurant run by the husband of the family. We timidly asked his wife if there was any chance of an omelette and after consulting her husband, they agreed to keep the restaurant open and to serve us a simple meal. Rarely has an omelette tasted so good as when it is eaten in a strange town you never meant to visit and is served with such generosity, while your car sits in an unfamiliar garage waiting to be repaired.
This generositywas a feature of our enforced stay at the hotel. It carried on in all kinds of small ways culminating in the chef-husband driving us to another hotel nearer to the garage, because his hotel closed on Sunday nights and there were no taxis to take us. When we thanked him, he replied simply, ‘It’s normal.’
The family in the hotel, and the maintenance man were all doing their jobs. We paid for the services we received and yet there was a distinct feeling that we received something we could not have paid for or put a price on. Without fuss they all offered small acts of kindnessthat transformed their services into more than a business transaction. They seemed to understand how awful it is to be in that situation without us having to say anything at all. By being prepared to connectwith us, as human beings—and even human beings in a difficult situation—they became more human to us and we could be comforted by their kindness and generosity.
The transformative nature of kindness
We ended up being stuck there for three nights. It turned out that the dynamo could not be delivered before the Tuesday. When I think of the occasion, it is the kindnessthat I remember more strongly than all the inconvenience. No-one did anything very out of the ordinary—as the chef said, it was normal—but by infusing their work with kindness they helped to transform a worrying and stressful situation into something manageable. Not a bad result for a day’s work—and the kindness really did conquer all!
Meditation is quite easy to learn and it’s not hard to practice. What can be hard is to make it part of your life. Do you find that there is a lot of stuff that gets in the wayof your meditation?
We are not used to meditating
There is a lot of talk about how mindfulness and meditation are so popular these days. It’s true that things have certainly changed from when I was a child. Nowadays everyone knows what meditation is, or thinks they do. We hear of various famous people who are said to practice meditation. It’s easy to find books, articles, apps and lots of courses on meditation.
This is all great, but it does not change the fact that we are not used to it.
For those of us living in the west, it’s really only in the last fifty or so years that meditation has been available to us. It’s a new addition for most people. It is only beginning to be accepted in certain areas of society—it’s certainly not something that everyone does. You don’t walk down the street and see billboards urging you to meditate. TV shows are not full of people meditating.
When I was a child there was even less talk of meditation. I would have loved to have had lessons in school. My life could have been quite different. Now meditation is beginning to be taught in schools. This is a wonderful development. Our education system is so focused on getting across all the right information. It’s a shame that learning how to work with our minds is just down to us.
Those of us who are meditators support each other through our communities but we are not mainstream. We are still working out how to make meditation part of our lives.
It is not always comfortable to sit with your mind
One result of not being used to meditation is that we can feel some resistance to it. Although we have heard of all the benefitsand we want to try it ourselves, it is not always comfortable. Sitting quietly with your mind is not always easy to do. Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia led a piece of research into how people react when they are asked to sit quietly without anything to occupy them. People reported feeling uncomfortable. Shockingly, in some cases people went for the option of giving themselves electric shocksjust to have something to do.
Part of our unfamiliarity with meditation means that we are not always sure if we want the benefits that it brings. We want inner peace but secretly worry that it might be boring. When we don’t feel like meditating it can even feel like we don’t really want to let go of our old habits. We like what we are familiar with—even if it causes us problems. Often in workshops I have had long interactions with people who are convinced that their stress is just ‘how things are’ and that there is nothing they can do to change things.
When you have been meditating for a while, your confidence grows in the feeling of stability that it brings. You stop looking for answers and begin to accept the quietening down of the mind as a way of it returning to its natural state.
There never seems to be enough time
On a more practical level, thinking that there is not enough time certainly gets in the way of your meditation. Most people live busy lives juggling work, family and trying to have some fun. We might want to meditate but we don’t know how to fit it in. Trying to do it in the morning means we have to get up too early. When we come home in the evening, we are too tired. Forget trying to do it during the day because things are happening much too fast.
At the risk of being repetitive, a lot of this comes down to not being used to meditation. If you look carefully, there are actually lots of timesfor short meditations during the day. It helps if we can just be quite natural about it. Taking a moment to watch your breath while standing in a queue is like a tiny meditation session. There can be many times like that—stopping at traffic lights, waiting for the bus, when you go to the loo.
You can also use all the ordinary, routine activities that you do every day as mindfulness exercises. Try cleaning your teeth mindfully or taking a shower. When you cook dinner, notice each of your actions and stay present with them. Try not to let your mind wander to what you have to do next.
All these small moments help us to get used to meditation. They make room for meditation in our life and help to make it a habit.
There is so much stuff going on in our minds
Traditional Buddhist teachings on meditation the mind is likened to a wild elephantthat needs to be tamed. Although we might not like to think of our minds being like a wild elephant, we do know that for much of the time we don’t seem to have so much control over where our minds go, or how they behave. In fact, if we are honest, we know that there really is nothing that our mind cannot think about, or how far out it can get.
All this noise in the mind can get in the way of your meditation. It’s not that we don’t want to meditate but our minds are so busy that it can over rule our intention to meditate. That’s why it is important to do regular short sessions. It helps our mind get more used to quietening down.
It’s easy to get discouraged
We hear so much good stuff about meditation that it can be disappointing when we do not see an immediate difference in our experience. Society is geared towards the quick and the instant result. We can see from how we surf the internet how impatient we can get when things don’t open fast enough.
Once we start meditation, we want to get it right. We want to be experts. It is easy to get frustrated at how much our mind wanders.
The thing is that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. Every time we meditate we are managing to create new neural pathwaysin our brain that will help us to make mediation a habit. Research is showing that changes can be found in the brain after practicing meditation for just eight weeks. We can learn to be patient with our wandering mind. Each time it strays from the method, we just notice and bring it back. That’s how meditation happens.
What to do when things get in the way of your meditation?
Having an enormous sense of humour about the whole thing really helps. Meditation is important but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. We also don’t need to give ourselves a bad time about it all.
I remember so clearly the moment when it really dawned on me that it was my choice to meditate. Yes, my meditation teacher was encouraging me, but no-one was forcing me to do anything that I did not want to do. I had adopted an attitude towards meditation like taking a nasty medicine because it was supposed to be good for me. Suddenly it hit me that if I truly realised the benefits of meditation, then it would seem natural to want to try and make space for it. It was such a relief! I could drop all my attitude and just get down to trying to find a way to fit it in.
Now I see meditation much more like cleaning my teeth. It’s something that I do several times a day. It helps my dental hygiene and I understand that it’s necessary and important. Just like I don’t want to go out with my mouth smelling bad, I want to work with my mind. If I don’t want my mind to run away with me and go wild, I need to meditate. There’s nothing to struggle about any more.
My niece is stressed at the moment because she has an end-of-year presentation for her PhD. My neighbour has been stressed for some time because she has a mysterious leak in her shower, which the plumber has so far been unable to fix. A colleague of mine is on extended sick leave due to high blood pressure and has been told to avoid anything likely to cause her stress. My friend had a headache for three days because he was stressed with over-work.
Divorce, bereavement, moving to a new house and even going on holiday all rate high in the stress scale. Troubles at work, economic instability and unemployment are also possible sources. We can even feel stress if caught in traffic or standing in a slow-moving queue at the airport. When we worry about our families, our health, our job, our weight, we are creating scenarios in the mind that can create stress. A short-term physical crisis, such as falling over or scalding an arm can be termed stressful, as can longer-term physical challenges like facing chronic illness or disability.
What is stress?
We use the word ‘stress’ to cover a multitude of experiences—things we are afraid of, things we don’t like, feelings we have, worries that plague us—we refer to all of them as stress. So, we find ourselves using stress to describe moods we have, sensations in our bodies, our reactions to events around us, things happening to us, or things we are worried will happen to us.
In fact, our stress responseevolved to help us avoid threat and survive as a species. Our bodies respond to stress in much the same way as any other mammal. However, the way this works in modern life it is not so simple. We subject ourselves to low grade stress for long periods of time. This means that our bodies are continuously being subjected to all the effects of the stress response even when we do not need it.
We get stressed by the very things we created in order to make our lives easier. When my internet goes down it drives me crazy. If I have computer trouble it feels, it can cause stress.
Having a flat tyre is not usually a life-threatening situation and yet it can cause our stress to erupt. Once we have got upset, it is hard to find our off switch and reset. The stress tends to rumble on. Any other mammal experiencing a stressor being removed simply returns to its normal activity. If a zebra escapes from the lion who is trying to eat it, it just goes back to grazing.
On top of that, as humans we have the capacity to think, imagine, and project. No zebra would understand how anyone could lie awake at night worrying about a presentation that they have to make at work the next day. When we worry, we are causing ourselves stress about stuff that might not ever happen.
How we react
We can also help ourselves by looking more closely at what is going on for us when we talk about being stressed. Often we say we are stressed when things are simply not going the way we want them to—we just miss the bus we were running for, the person before us in the supermarket picks up the last loaf of our favourite bread, a colleague at work does not perform how we think they should.
Of course, all these things can be annoying, but we can tip them over into stressful situations by how we react. If we shrug and look for the next bus coming along instead of cursing the driver for not waiting for us; if we mentally offer the bread to the person who got there first instead of resenting them and if we take the time to talk to our colleague to find out why their performance is under-par we can things on a manageable level and avoid a full-stress impact.
There is a Buddhist teaching about two arrows. It describes how when something difficult happens we suffer and feel pain, as if being shot by an arrow. That in itself is intense enough but then we often react to what is happening by complaining, blaming, or hitting out. The pain that this causes us is like being shot by a second arrow. Maybe we cannot avoid the first one, but we do have some choice about the second one.
Stress is inevitable
Hans Seyle, the father of stress research, once said that if you do not experience stress, you must be dead! We know that life is full of challenges. Some are huge and seem overwhelming. Many are small and relatively unimportant in themselves but can add up to a lot of hassle. Training ourselves to accept this, rather than fight it is can be a big help in working with stress.
Meditation can help with this. It helps us become more present, which cuts our habit of ruminating over our worries. Our perspective opens up and we are less likely to take things so personally. Through meditation we can build resilience and learn to how to come back more quickly from a difficult experience.
We can also learn to be more kind to ourselves and stop beating ourselves up about things that go wrong. Telling ourselves off for finding things hard is certainly being hit with two arrows, instead of just one.
Understanding the stress of other people
When we can take a look at how we react, as well as beginning to accept the inevitability of stress it opens up some space. Then we can look around us and see how stress affects other people.
Maybe we find ourselves having to drop into our local super-market on the way home from work. If we take the time to look around us as we push our trolleys through the laden shelves, it is not hard to find opportunities to observe many of the ways we human beings experience stress.
Consider the middle-aged man in a smart suit buying an easy-to prepare meal for one. Perhaps he is recently divorced, living alone for the first time in years and dealing with the stress of change and upheaval. Spare a thought for the young mother with a baby in a buggy and a toddler clinging round her legs. She looks as if she has not had a propernight’s sleep for two or three years. The lounging teenage boy sulking around the soft drinks has an air of aimlessness and boredom about him. Maybe because he left school with such high hopes and now does not seem to be able to find any kind of job that lives up to his dreams. Take care as you pass the older woman, walking carefully, who underwent major surgery two months ago and is feeling low and vulnerable as she tries to get her strength back.
Recognising our shared humanity
As we select the items, we need to cook our evening meal, perhaps we are rubbing shoulders with people suffering from exam nerves, having relationship problems, shouldering the care of elderly relatives–the list is endless.
If we can create space around our own stress, it enables us to see more clearly what is going on for other people. Recognising stress in other people brings home how we are all in the same boat. Whatever our differences, we all just want to be happy and avoid suffering and pain. Yet we know that life brings challenges that we all need to face from time to time.
When we allow ourselves to take account of the difficulties other people face, it opens our hearts. Instead of being focused on our own problems we find room for concern for those of other people. We feel more connected with others and less likely to isolate ourselves with our own worries.
When you are pushing your trolley round your local supermarket doing the weekly shop, perhaps compassion is not the main thing on your mind. It’s quite likely that you are focused on finding everything on your list and getting home as soon as you can.
I can sympathise.
However, recently I have been trying to look at my supermarket trips in a different light. It’s been an inspiration to discover the extent to which my local supermarket can inspire compassion.
The abundance of goods from all over the world
I live in Amsterdam. It’s a diverse city and its supermarkets reflect this in their range of goods. I have been playing a kind of game where I choose an item on display. Then I try and trace back how it got to this shelf, in this supermarket, in this city. The results are more impressive than I expected.
Our oranges have lately been coming from Spain—not so far away, you might think. However, once you start the process—the orchard where the oranges are grown, the family who own the orchard, the workers who pick the fruit and their families, the trucks that transport the fruit—all just to get the oranges to Holland. Then there is all the activity that will happen here to get them to the supermarket. There are the advertisers, the marketing experts, the financial people and the distributors. Finally, there are the people who work in the local supermarket loading the shelves.
If you want to take the game to an even more detailed level, you can include the people who make the clothes of all the people involved, who build the vehicles that get them to work, who farm the food they have eaten for breakfast.
In fact, there is no end to the game and that is with just one item. We could move on to soy sauce, or tinned pineapples!
You may be wondering, what has this got to do with compassion?
One of the ways we can respond to stress isby standing our ground and fighting back. When this becomes exhausting, or we have met with a few defeats we tend to withdraw to lick our wounds and if we are not careful this can turn into a kind of self-isolation. When we isolate ourselves the tendency to ruminate on our problems increases. It can be easier to get our challenges out of proportion and to feel things are against us. If we have low social connection, it can be worse for our health than smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity. It can mean we recover more slowly from illness.
Generally speaking, human beings thrive on connection.We need the interaction with other people and the insights that brings. We can learn to regulate our emotions more successfully and increase our self-esteem. In fact, social connection creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Allowing ourselves to feel our connection with others,rather than keeping ourselves separate is an important element of compassion. Using the goods in the supermarket to reach out to hundreds, if not thousands of other people helps to build an awareness of the people who impact our lives. This awareness can open our hearts more and enable us to see the importance of other people’s needs.
Connection and our local supermarket.
It’s all too easy as we hurry to get our shopping done to find people irritating, to judge their behaviour and to form negative opinions of them. Maybe you find small children running around in supermarkets a challenge, or the people who stand for ages with their trolleys parked across the aisle you are trying to negotiate. Personally, it’s easy for me to get annoyed by supermarket staff reloading shelves, with their big packages getting in the way.
I have been focusing lately on one very young man who has recently started working in our local supermarket. He is small, and young looking for his age. He can’t have left school very long ago. When he started, he was clumsy and often in my way and I found myself tutting and sighing. However, as the weeks have passed, he has shown himself to be responsible and hard-working. I see his mates drop by sometimes to tease and distract him, but he won’t have it. He sends them away. I have seen him stretch to get packages of milk for old ladies who cannot reach them and to run after a mother with a toddler in her buggy, who had dropped something and not seen it. He has real pride in what many would see as a low-skill job. It brought home to me that once you make the effort to connect with someone and not just see them as ‘the shelf-stacker’, or the ‘check-out assistant’, a whole different level of connectionopens up that is rewarding and enriching.
It turns out that supermarkets don’t just connect you to all the many people who have brought the goods near enough for you to buy but also to all the people from your neighbourhood who work there and shop there.
Taking time to smile at other people
Did you know that smiling is good for you? It turns out that even just putting your lips into the form of a smile will help to raise your level of wellbeing.
I have started consciously trying to make eye contact with other shoppers and to smile at them. Most of the time I get a great response—a friendly smile back, sometimes even a word or two.
Compassion for me grows in lots of small, accessible ways. It does not come from great aspirations and good intentions alone. It’s all too clear to me that my evolutionary history and social conditioning have helped to create habits that have more to do with protecting my self-interest than reaching out to other people. I like to think that I am chipping away at these habits on a daily basis by training myself to see differently, to be more aware of other people and to recognise the power of a smile.
We have more in common than we think
Once we start to become more aware of other people and to allow them in, it does not take long to see how interdependent we all are. Each time I watch the news and think about the stories that are trending, it comes home to me how, despite our differences, we all want the same basic things. We all want to live happy lives and avoid pain and suffering and yet again and again, we see that happiness is not so easy to find and suffering is inevitable.
In addition, events that happen in seemingly distant places can impact us strongly. Think of a lorry drivers’ strike in France and how that can have ramifications all over Europe, as roads get blocked and supermarket stocks get low. There are an historic number of misplaced people on the planet just now because of war and famine. Think of all the interwoven effects of those people trying to find safety and a new life.
The classical African concept of Ubuntuencapsulates these ideas. Archbishop Desmond Tutusays that Ubuntu refers to the fact that you cannot be human in isolation, that we are all inter-connected.
In Mahayana Buddhismthere is the idea of Indra’s net—an infinite web that holds the universe. At each place where the threads of the web cross there is a jewel, which reflects all the other jewels.
All this points out that simply seeking your own happiness, without taking other people into account is out of step with how the world works. Our own happiness is bound up with the happiness and wellbeing of everyone else. We are all in this together and can only thrive when we act with that understanding. This is how compassion works.
So, we return to our local supermarket, where we can see that, if we pay just a little more attention, we have plenty of opportunities to foster connection and inspire compassion. The people who produce the food we are buying, the staff in the store, our fellow shoppers are all like us in so many ways. Because our actions can affect each other in countless ways, compassion becomes an essential ingredient in how we are together. Developing compassion means coming to respect interdependence and what it shows us about how we live together on this planet.
A few weeks ago, my partner and I were out with some friends for dinner. We had not seen them for a while, and we had a lot to talk about. On top of that, one of our friends was going through a bit of a tough time and needed support. We happy to offer it, except that the people at the table behind us were celebrating and extremely noisy. It was one of those weird situations where you found yourself raising your voice to talk about delicate things. I found myself beginning to experience what I can only describe as ‘restaurant rage’.
I was focused on our small group at our table and found myself glancing over my shoulder in increasing irritation at the thoughtlessness of the noisy crowd behind me. It seemed to be that they were inconsiderate and thoughtless, with no care for the enjoyment of the other diners.
Eventually, after a while, a sense of doubt set in. How was my behaviour any different? I wanted things quiet and peaceful so my friends and I could have the environment we wanted. The celebrators wanted to have a good time. I wanted things one way and they wanted them another. Why did I assume that my way was best? Why did I feel entitled to it?
It got me thinking about how our default position is so often to want others to change to fit in with how we want things to be. It is so much harder to change our own behaviour to be able to manage the challenging situation more effectively.
Here are the things that I came up with to try and help myself cope. I live in a city; noisy restaurants are common—so turning restaurant rage into kindness seems like a good investment.
Take care of your irritation
If you are going to change the way you are reacting, you need to give yourself some time to realise you are irritated and then to calm down. I usually find a few long, slow breaths will do it. No-one needs to notice—you can just rest your attention on your breath for a few moments until you feel yourself coming back.
The next thing is to get a handle on what is actually happening, rather than what you imagine is happening. In my dinner example, the party at the nearby table were not nasty people on a mission to spoil my evening—there just wanted to enjoy themselves.
With this perspective, it’s easier to remember that it’s not all about you. You have the right to want things to go the way you wish but then so does everyone else. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they go another person’s way. There’s not a lot we can do to change that and getting irritated about it just makes you miserable.
Show yourself some kindness
As soon as I started to think this way, I felt a bit bad for being so down on our neighbours. The voice in my head started to tell me off for being so self-centred and intolerant. Before I knew where I was, I was feeling guilty and telling myself that I am always just so impatient.
Fortunately, I quickly realised what I was doing, and decided to give myself a break. When we try to deal with our reactions, sometimes we get it wrong for a while. It’s no big deal as long as we can see what is going on. It is really important not to muddy the water by beating up on yourselfat the same time. It just makes things more complicated and does not help at all.
Pay attention to the sound without the storyline
Funnily enough, it is possible to use sound as a support for meditation. Of course, if you are in a restaurant you might not want to go off into a corner for a meditation session, but you can still use the principle. Just notice the sounds around you, without judging and without building a storyline about them. You could call it a Teflon relation to sound—just notice it with your full attention but without commentary.
Going back again to my restaurant example—I immediately made a story about my friend and I needing quiet and the people nearby ruining it with their noise. Thinking back, it’s quite likely they were not even particularly aware of us.
We relate to the world through our senses, but we do have a choice as to how we are with the information they provide. We don’t always have to react.
Enjoy other people’s pleasure
When you get annoyed with the behaviour of other people your stress levels rise and you feel uncomfortable. In the restaurant, I could feel myself getting tight with trying to block out the noisy table.
A totally different approach is to notice joywhen it is happening around you and to allow it to nourish you.
This might involve dropping your own agenda and simply opening to the enjoyment of others. It could mean that instead of protecting yourself, you allow yourself to open to the happiness of other people. It does not have to be your happiness, but it can lift your heart just the same.
Always wish them well
My remedy for restaurant rage is wishing people wellbeing and happiness. Anyone we come across is the same as usin wanting to be happy and to avoid all the things that cause them pain. Even the most annoying person just wants to be happy. If you can bring that to mind when you are feeling irritated, it changes everything.
You may have heard of Loving Kindness Meditation. It’s a meditation focused on wishing happiness and wellbeing for yourself, for people close to you, for people you do not know so well and even for people you find challenging.
Even if you are not familiar with the whole meditation, you can still focus on a person, or group of people and in your mind, say something like, May you be happy, may you be well. I find it a great exercise to do when I am in crowded places and there are many people. It brings me a feeling of ease.
Do you have any tips for turning rage into kindness in city life? If you do, please add them in the comments section so we can all try them out.