In last week’s experiment I was learning how to manage negative emotions.
I was using the “trick” Buddha Gautama Siddhartha is using in the parable about Mara, the demon who liked to tempt him with anger, lust and greed. In the story Buddha would react by acknowledging Mara’s presence, naming him, and inviting him for tea; and he would achieve enlightenment.
This may sound like something Buddha could do easily. But as you can imagine it’s not very easy for a common human, not in the heat of the moment. Still, after one week I think I’m a more pleasant person to be around, compared to my previous two “bitchy” weeks.
So what is the magic trick?
Instead of having the anger (impatience, frustration, etc) take control of my actions, or forcibly sweeping it under the carpet (and wait until it grows huge), I was supposed to do something different. Simply name it (say “anger, anger” in my head) and acknowledge it for what it is (emotion).
As you may imagine, that is not the usual thing I do when I’m angry.
Imagine that you accidentally find out from your colleague that he is going for a training that your HR forgot to tell you about, even though she should know you are waiting for it last 6 months. Now instead of acting on the frustration, you should just breathe and think “this what I feel is anger”. You may want to chip in and add “jealousy” as well. After naming your emotions clearly, you can let them float with their hashtags visible. Then, instead of pointlessly pondering what would be the most cynical way to let your HR know she’s either useless or malevolent (which is a stupid way to use your time and energy), you can calmly decide what is the best way to talk to her. (I simply asked her whether there’s any reason why I should not go. There was none, so I’m going.)
Of course it was not so easy first few days – I would usually remember just when it was a bit too late. But with each case it became easier and easier to recognize these unnecessary emotional flares. It’s quite surprising how many times a day I would get distracted by them.
The experiment is officially finished, but I’m still getting the benefits. I have glitches, but one week was enough for me to shift gears and be less reactive to negative emotions.
I found a way how to make it even easier for me – I literally say “hashtag anger”, which thanks to a wonderful hashtag-themed sketch by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake makes me just grin inside. It makes it very difficult to stay angry. Hashtag funny.
The shift became very clear for me this morning as I was walking to work. Man walking in front of me suddenly slowed down. I don’t know why, but even if I’m in a very good mood I tend to be overly sensitive to people blocking the way for other people. Especially when “other people” = me.
But this time no words that are not-suitable-for-a-lady popped into my mind. Strangely enough, what popped into my mind was “I should invite him for tea”.
Thank you dear Tara Brach, I am enlightened.
Now I just have to figure out what was wrong with me previous two weeks. I have some cues, and it really helps to not get too emotional about it and instead bring some rationality to the table. Hashtag frustration.
Result: Hell yes!