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Tamar Chansky

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After-the-Fact Mindfulness: Finding the Pause Button, Better Late Than Never

Posted: 07/19/2012 7:31 am

I have a confession to make. I lost my cool this morning. Not really visibly unless you count the look I gave the poor workman who actually did the right thing in showing up on time, and in so doing just happened to be blocking the driveway with a huge truck pulling an even huger trailer when I, already running very late, was rushing to get my daughter to the train to get to her college class on time. The result: I had to drive (fast) over the side of the lawn and precipitously close to the truck in order to get around him. Translation: I peeled out of my nice quasi-suburban driveway like a bat out of hell. "Do you think he was upset?" I asked my daughter as we are racing to the station. "Mom, I think he thought you were going to kill him."

I felt really bad.

A million factors went into the reason why that tiny moment happened that way. I could regale you with them, but you can imagine and fill in your own stories of how drama gets created so easily in the normal course of a day. OK, in my defense here's how it happened: just one quick email I had to reply to, the bread went moldy so we scrambled for plan B breakfast food, my other daughter's new haircut required my intervention to tame the curls, the clock got away from me and then the final straw -- I couldn't find my car keys and had to dig up the spare. But none of that really matters.

And the test of it is that two hours later, after my daughter had in fact caught her train and was almost finished with her class, sitting in a very quiet coffee shop I could still feel the adrenaline buzzing in my ears. It hurt.

As I began to put my awareness on what really happened this morning, realizing I wasn't going to be able to shake the grip it had on me otherwise, that blinding intensity of my focus -- man, beast or truck, outta my way! -- started to ease and a different feeling started to unfurl.

Yes, I could race ahead and worry about any number of things: that the workman would be so mad that he wouldn't show up tomorrow or even that he'd quit, that my husband would be upset that I also kind of made the same awful face at him. I could also be upset at myself for not having the grace and composure that I so value and count on. But instead I went the other way.

Compassion. For myself first: I was rushing, I had plans that I needed to get to, too. The workman and his big truck, of course, just happened by being in the very right place for his mission, to be at the wrong place for mine. Turning it around, I was actually just as much in his way as he was in mine. I imagined how confused he must have been to see me in that state.

And then I thought about my husband -- I gave him the look for not being out in the driveway to direct the workman out of the way. And why was that? Was he inside stretched out with a piping hot cup of coffee and the morning paper? No. He was inside doing me a favor looking up something on the computer (until I went to get him to come deal with the situation by knocking madly at the door, because of course the spare car key I grabbed had no house key attached to it and I had conveniently locked the door on my way out). I knew that by this point in the morning he had likely already done his own after-the-fact recap and had come to the conclusion (quickly) that he still loves his wife who is at times a bit too fiery. And in fact, when I talk to my husband later and show him this story he laughs and says that he wasn't bothered by "the face" I gave him. I suppose, as the jazz standard goes, he's grown accustomed to it.

And so, no longer wanting to pin this mess on a bad guy (and not just because I was the most likely suspect) or inventing future catastrophes on top of the series of events that happened this morning, I sat with them as they were.

I saw how I can get so caught up in the apparent urgency of the moment when I so don't want to. I understood that not getting caught up in the apparent urgency of the moment is the universal "work in progress" for humankind. I saw the possibility that these seemingly unfortunate events might connect me to, rather than alienate me from, the workman, whom I will be seeing (hopefully) every morning for the next two months. I consider that if I tell him how sorry I am and how crazed I must have seemed, that hopefully we will both laugh. And in fact, when I do talk with him later that afternoon and see that his huge truck was actually just a van -- but in fairness to my temporary insanity, the trailer actually was humungous -- we do laugh. Mindfulness in the moment would be great; mindfulness later on can be good, too.

Maybe as I get in the habit of pausing, even two hours after the fact, the pause button may appear sooner, maybe, someday, even in the moment. And instead of charging ahead, adrenaline flames flaring like a teenager on a motorcycle, any time a disturbance appears in my field, other possibilities -- ones that I won't regret two hours later -- will pop up in my mind's eye and the crisis will be averted.

There was a little bonus for pausing today. Sitting quietly, I suddenly remembered that one of reasons I was late in the first place was that I was talking to my husband about an unpleasant call I had received the night before. I was marveling at how the person had been rude and coarse and really could have been more kind. And, get this, I actually quoted that very morning, just minutes before the driveway debacle, the ever-wise words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." I smiled thinking of that now. Work in progress for sure. Apparently, and humbly, where it is possible to be kind, for me anyway, may just be after the fact.

For more by Tamar Chansky, click here.

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