I recently had a personal revelation that aligned well with the tenets of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process in which someone attempts to sustain their attention on the present moment as long as possible, the sensation of their feet on the ground or the food in their mouth, without getting lost in thought. In the way I would ask of my clients I tried to convert my revelation into a behavioural experiment. Behavioural experimentation can be understood as a small step toward a larger goal. Sometimes you might know it is trivial, but it can feel like a huge obstacle. Firstly, I would speak with a client to determine in which direction they wish to grow. Then it will be time to work out what is the first step in that direction. Following up from these behavioural experiments will be an analysis behind the surrounding thoughts, behaviours and emotions that the client felt stopped them from completing that experiment.
As with many of you I have a busy lifestyle, and often feel like the next point in my timetable is the priority. Running between meetings, doctors’ appointments, or social occasions. On our way there will be obstacles. In the traffic it is the other cars, in the city it is the other people. It is easy to get angry and wonder why people have to be so careless or inconsiderate. It is very easy to forget that there are other timetables, other agendas. Of course there will always be people who are inconsiderate or careless, keep in mind that sometimes that person will be you. It doesn’t have to be intentional, particularly in a busy city. Paths are bound to not just cross, but collide.
The frustration that you might feel from day to day, the accumulated irritation that builds to anger is almost always not an individual’s fault but rises from tripping up on a series of small obstacles prior to your moment of aggravation. As the aggravation builds, your body becomes tight and your perspective shrinks. It is very easy to start living in your own head, from your own point of view. My revelation was simple and has been considered in a variety of ways before, but involved a conscious decision to step into someone else’s shoes… almost literally.
As it is a simple behavioural experiment, perhaps you would like to try it. Next time you are presented with the choice to overtake someone either on the footpath on the highway, try choosing to stay behind them. Keep safety in mind, don’t travel too close behind them and do not put anyone’s safety at risk, and especially don’t follow in a way that could be perceived as invading a person’s personal space. Then notice what thoughts come to mind, especially the excuses as to why you should immediately pass them by. Notice the emotions that rise up in you. Even if you don’t have a life threatening issue or are late to something acutely urgent you may notice the same level of frustration or anxiety.
Attempt to challenge those thoughts, sooth those anxieties. Look around you, absorb your surroundings, feel your feet on the ground, breathe deeply and remember it is not necessary to be hard on yourself if calming down takes longer to achieve than you expect. A deliberate behavioural choice such as this can almost spontaneously elicit compassionate thought; “This tourist is taking in a gorgeous building that I take for granted”, “This driver is clearly lost and is worried about it becoming worse”. This is not only usefully altruistic but is functionally calming for yourself. The less enemies you perceive, the safer you feel.
So, that is my challenge for the week. Go and unmake a few enemies.