When I find myself getting irritated over someone being late to meet me for lunch, or when a car repair takes longer or costs more than expected, or whenever my plans are unexpectedly thwarted, I make myself stop and notice my irritation. I do not judge it, and as I observe it, its power over me dissipates. I start to formulate a plan B. OK, I’m standing here waiting, what can I observe? Or, this is a good time to become more aware of my breathing. OK, I cannot access the Internet, what do I have on my local hard drive that I can work on? OK, I cannot run this morning, so what about this afternoon, or tomorrow morning? There’s always an alternative.
When I find myself getting impatient with the tedium of a task at work, I stop myself from getting discouraged by reminding myself that I am lucky to have a job with a supportive company that provides so many perks and benefits. I remember that I am learning new things and being paid to do something I love and do well. Smile and quietly spread cheer and enthusiasm from the time that I log in until the time that I click off my desk lamp.
When I get irritated with my kids over a snarky remark or an undone chore, I stop myself from letting that irritation turn into full-blown anger by reminding myself how truly wonderful my kids are and what incredible human beings they are becoming. It wasn’t that long ago, or it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, that they were toddlers following my every step and emulating my every action. I tear up when I review old photos of them and see the unadulterated delight in their eyes and smiles. Sweet little children no more, they are nevertheless fundamentally kind, caring, and loving individuals of whom I am so very proud. I am so lucky to have them in my lives. They will be out of my house sooner than I know, so I should relish every minute that we share the same roof even though they leave dirty dishes on the table, lights turned on, and clothes strewn on the floor. Count to ten, hug them, and kiss them good night every night.
When I find myself tuning out my wife when she complains about something or tries to prod me into action on an overdue domestic task, I remind myself how lucky I am to have such a loving partner who has put up with me for over twenty two years. We are not young anymore, but so what? We are approaching old age together, committed to one another until the end of our days. Do or say something kind or affectionate for her every day.
When I fret over a sore heel or a cramped hamstring after a run, I stop myself from letting that fretting develop into full-blown self pity by reminding myself that I am fortunate to be able to run at all. I remind myself how precious my health is, and that I must work to maintain it, and that this work will never stop as long as I’m alive. Stretch, take anti-inflammatory medicine if necessary, and run again tomorrow.
Has aging made me more appreciative? Have the recent shocks of my life shaken me awake and made me keenly aware of the countless blessings I receive every day? Has realizing that everyone suffers in some way made me more tolerant and more thankful for friends and family? Does it matter? Be here now. Notice the momentary negativity, do not judge it, and glide gracefully into gratitude. Am I always successful with this emotional aikido? Of course not, but I don’t mind the practice.