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.