In a lovely coincidence this happened on Independence Day. After a quick run to the store my partner and I cruised the local car dealerships since we could do so without being approached by salespeople. I drove up and down the aisles and she jumped out here and there to check sticker prices. At one point, as we chatted away, I paused mid-thought, and she filled in the rest. I hate this. Normally, I’d let out an exasperated sigh or snap, “Stop interrupting me!”* But neither of those things happened this time because a thought entered my head: “I’m not going to snap at her anymore when she does that.” And the next thing that happened was a feeling of relief, like I’d pulled a big rock out of the bag of rocks on my back and put it down. And the next thing that happened was my ego cried out in anguish, “What’s going to be left of me if I put this rock down? What about all of my other rocks? Who am I without my rocks?”
I’m not kidding. At that moment I believed that part of what makes me who I am is that I react with anger when I think my partner has interrupted me. Yes, I did laugh out loud at that thought.
I’ve regretted snapping before and promised myself to do better, be patient, learn to overlook it. But that response was inadequate as evidenced by the fact that I never stopped snapping. Those previous efforts were founded on the assumption that the story I told myself about my partner’s behavior had some foundation in reality. The story was: She never listens to me. That story fit neatly with my previous experiences (aka: bag of rocks). The youngest of six, raised in an often chaotic and noisy household, I could hardly get a word in edgewise. There are times when my partner doesn’t listen. But never listens? No, that’s empirically untrue. It turns out that every instance of her starting to speak before I finish speaking is not someone I love ignoring me or telling me to stop talking.
How is it that I finally noticed this truth? Practice. I spend a little time each day reading something, sometimes just a couple of pages, that challenges me to pay attention to how my mind works. And, my meditation practice is getting stronger. In recent days I’ve been asking myself, when uncomfortable feelings arise, “Am I going to throw away my happiness in this moment over this?” I take a deep breath, I let the feelings pass through, I deal with whatever needs to be dealt with, and then I let it go.
Or to paraphrase my hero Michael Singer, I am living my life rather than living my mind.
What practices are you using to watch your mind at work?
What’s in your bag of rocks? Which ones are you ready to put down?
*Communication nerds, like me, say that overlaps and interruptions are the same thing—two people speaking simultaneously. The difference is that overlapping speech is perceived as accidental for example, when one speaker apologizes and stops speaking in order to allow the other person to continue. Overlaps can also be perceived as cooperative speech where two people, often people who are close, finish each other’s sentences. In contrast, interruptions are perceived as an effort to stop the speaker from continuing.