So here I sit, wondering about what the teaching might be, about those light bulbs I was writing about yesterday. And about the new problem that came up only a few minutes later, when our whole telephone system went haywire--on precisely the day when I had telephone interviews scheduled and appointments made. I call out, and my voice can't be heard at the other end of the line. I hear my respondent saying Hello, hello, hello, but they clearly don't hear me.
Okay, first the anger. That's the initial response to these glitches that occur in life--having mostly to do with technology, of course, or with home maintenance. I suppose the truth is that I'm not good with chaos. I like things to do what they're supposed to do, and would wish to live in a universe where order was assured. Unfortunately, that happens not to be the universe I live in. Perhaps one day I'll wake up and find myself on such a planet, but here on Earth... not going to happen. The anger, though triggered by real events, is in fact as irrational as most emotions: I do know, somewhere in the recesses of what I like to think of as an intelligent brain, that such displeasing events are not of my own making and, in many cases, beyond my ability to correct. In dire cases, I call in Joe the gardener, as I did yesterday, or some person better equipped than I to fix the problem. But in the meantime I know too that I can choose to cling on to the anger and make it worse, or simply watch it grow and dissipate, as it surely will. The difficulty arises in the disconnect between that knowledge and its implementation. I have learned the proper tool: the breath. And there are times when I do indeed manage to rise above the situation and watch it from the comfortable viewpoint of equanimity. But it's hard...
Then there's the panic. I'm obsessively punctual. When the appointed time comes for me to call and I pick up the phone and the phone doesn't work, the panic immediately sets in. I'll be late. I may miss my appointment altogether. What will this person think of me? I imagine her sitting there, awaiting the call with the kind of impatience I myself would be feeling at this moment, and projecting all kinds of bad thoughts in my direction! What kind of a flake is this Peter, who said he'd call at noon? The panic spreads--subtly, though; I'm not throwing fits, but I can feel it as it permeates the body--and threatens to take control. So here again is the teaching moment. Breathe. Acknowledge that mistakes can happen, frequently do, and that reparations are always possible, post facto. If I can't control the situation, at least I can do something to control the way the mind reacts to it. The mind wants to be my tyrant, but I have learned to make it my friend, also, my collaborator not my enemy.
It's a slow process, this learning. I have to relearn each lesson so many times, and even when I think I have it down, I watch myself slip back into the old reactive patterns. It's good, though, to have acquired at least a glimmering of the wisdom that the Buddha taught--lessons that are as relevant and vital today as when he taught them, so many centuries ago.
(Readers: Please note that John Torcello, a regular reader and frequent commentator on The Buddha Diairies, has just released a new ebook called Torcello: Reflections on an Affirmative Path 3, the third in a series of free-verse collections. I'm happy to help him spread the word, and wish him congratulations on his publication, and good luck.)