I was much more zen and less complain-y and crotchety when I moved to Europe. I was far more peaceful and less critical, less gossip-y.
I blame traffic.
But seriously. I have a couple theories as to why I always seem to be more uptight in the States:
1. Well, honestly, when I lived in Prague, there was so much horrendous drama going on (the fighting, the cheating, the nearly being choked to death, the nervous breakdown, ya know) that I spent much time focusing on being zen and looking for positive. Plus, when you’re so focused on surviving the day to day, and extricating yourself from a dangerous, destructive relationship (as well as a series of self-destructive habits) you tend to not look to others to find fault with, or criticize, or pick on.
2. The traffic. Yeah… no, really. I didn’t drive for 3 years and when I first returned to Philly, my closest friend even remarked on how much more relaxed I was behind the wheel. I used to honk like a banshee, and drive very much on the defensive. But suddenly, if someone cut me off, I waved my hand in the air with nary a “meh,” and decided it wasn’t worth my energy getting angry about. I did that for a long time. I held out, and chastised Hank, and my father (who gets REALLY worked up while driving) to just let it go.
Oh, but then I moved to LA. The sheer stupidity and lack of courtesy and common sense in Los Angeles drivers is… well, it’s insurmountable is what it is. It beats you down. We could talk, for hours, about how horrible the drivers are here – that’s an entire post in itself. So we’ll just stop right there, on that point.
3. I could speak and understand quite a bit of Czech, but if I wanted to really hear everyone around me, I’d have had to strain and focus. So, for the most part, all the conversations around me were just white noise. You’d be amazed at how much of other people’s conversations you pick up on throughout the day. Nowadays, I catch people saying things that are, to me, incredibly inane and it annoys me. I know it shouldn’t. But it does. And if I hear someone saying something positive about, oh, say Sarah Palin? – it irks the fuck out of me.
4. The grass is greener. I know this. Living on the other side of the fence for awhile, I took great joy in the differences. The little details of life, such as Czechs always taking their own bags to grocery stores and bagging their own groceries were wonderful. Now, I go to Trader Joe’s and watch these privileged, oblivious & perfectly capable women stand there fiddling with their nails while the lines backs up behind them and the cashier takes 5 minutes to bag their massive pile of stuff… well. Sigh.
In short, I came back to the States and things started to annoy me again. Then I moved to LA and – not that I’m blaming LA entirely, at all – but I’ve gotten to be downright unpleasant sometimes. I gossip and snark more than I want to. I enjoy it most when Hank starts complaining about someone at work – a couple of certain someones, actually, who we can’t stand. I get irritated at Hank for his constant chirpiness. (Although, there are times – like in the morning – when I simply will never put up with it and shouldn’t have to. I’m not a morning person and he needs to accept that.)
But it’s really not the direction I want to go in, it’s not who I ever wanted to be. I think I’ve gotten grumpier with this pregnancy because instead of looking at the bright side and all the bonuses, I’ve been sulking about all the things I feel I need to give up. (Truthfully, the benefits have already becoming glaringly obvious, just in short term – I’ve been far more diligent about exercising and being active, I go to yoga regularly and I’ve even been slowly learning to relax and let go during the classes, I’ve been making more effort to stick to my natural/organic ways with fewer slips, and I’ve been more motivated to pursue my hobbies.)
And yet, still, I grump. I grump and I hate people in general. This from someone who’s dreamt of joining the Peace Corp and going to Africa for almost 2 decades. (I’d have done it, but kept getting sidelined as I was about to send my application.) I feel like for all the things that piss me off about this world, I’ve become part of the problem instead of the solution.
What to do?
I have my therapist, of course, but that’s mostly focusing on the past in order to fix things in the present. It’s a slow process.
A few days ago, I was looking through books on Amazon and something about Buddhism came up. So I started researching. Buddhism is something that I’ve ALWAYS been interested in and wanted to learn about, but again, always getting distracted or forgetting or not having the time. And I know it sounds silly and maybe a little hippy-dippy (believe me, if there’s anyone that hates crunchy hippy-dippiness, it’s me), but I feel like I’m on to something.
I attempted to go to a Buddhist study class today, free, at a Buddhist Temple, but I was running late and encountered car issues. (In short, I was running late, ran outside to see the car was covered in those god awful ficus berries I bitched about yesterday and I couldn’t possibly head up to the Temple without stopping at a gas station to clear the windshield first. I didn’t want to run in half an hour late, so next week, hopefully.)
I came across this great quote that spoke volumes to me:
Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience.
It isn’t more complicated that that.
It is opening to or recieving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.
I took that to mean, basically – it is what it is. If you’re sitting in traffic and people are driving like assholes, that’s what the present moment is. Just accept it. It won’t do any good to get all worked up and start yelling at people. And that’s something I need to do – relearn how to let things just roll off my back.
That’s why I’ve always been drawn to Buddhism – it’s not about the religion, but about learning to be peaceful. It’s not so much about God/a God, it’s about humanity and self. And being kind to others.
Hank is a happy-go-lucky, bright & cheery, at times childlike kinda guy. I get on his case – a lot. (Yes, I am aware of this.)
This morning I woke to find that he’d discovered the box of cookies I’d brought home yesterday (which I forgot about before I went to bed – forgot as in, forgot to give instructions). He’d eaten the ONE thing in there that I’d specifically gotten for myself and wanted. (Really, he’s worse than any woman you know when it comes to chocolate and sweets. He can’t be trusted around them.) When I opened the box, my jaw clenched. WHAT THE FUCK! He thinks it’s ok to just open up and attack everything he finds, thinks it’s all fair game. And *I* at least usually leave half of things for him. He’d already left for work, so I sent a text message:
I’m going to be zen and laugh at your foibles instead instead of getting angry that you the one thing I wanted. You cannot be trusted with pastries. You’re a cookie monster.
Mind you, I’m pregnant and my tastes are really specific right now, so if there’s ONE thing in a box of MANY that I want, then… well.
Granted, I still had to point this out to him, but I did it with humor and I didn’t snarl at him. He laughed about me calling him cookie monster, so I feel my task was accomplished. He knows that, especially over the next few months, he needs to not take everything he sees, but I didn’t make him feel like shit for a needless amount of time, or at all.
And then… an hour later, I im’d him.
Thanks for taking out the trash last night.
Now, you may be scratching your head or thinking these are minor, tiny little things, but they’re not. I got a big grin emoticon and a “No problem!” and I know his jaw had dropped like lead to the floor. He says thank you all the time – too often, in my opinion. But I pretty much never say it because… well, I don’t know why. In any case, I had this silly Buddhist stuff in my head and have been trying to be mindful the past couple days and I knew that doing something as seemingly insignificant as saying “thanks” for taking out the trash totally made his day.
He’s easy like that.
In any case. I don’t need to go whole hog on the Buddhist thing or even call myself a Buddhist. I just appreciate and enjoy the mindful process of being more positive again, of being peaceful.
I’ve been doing this silly thing where I, in my head, say something positive about everyone I encounter. Well, not ever single person that crosses my path, but the standouts. Like the people who do that thing where they’re walking in front of then suddenly dead stop right in your path and change direction or start looking at something without watching where they’re going? Or the drivers who cut you off or nearly hit you when you’re walking, or the woman in front of you in the check-out line yammering on her cell phone? Why do these things bother me so much? Or, they bother me, but why for so long? It doesn’t really affect me. I get too hung up on principle. So I say something nice or complimentary (in my head, not to them) and… I don’t know. I can’t say it really re-humanizes them or anything, but at least it cuts off my snarky comments and negative energy. It ain’t worth it.