I’m sure the majority of us have seen or heard about the recent mass incidents in the news. I can safely assume this since even I have, and I don’t watch or read the news. Negativity and skewed reporting has never chalked up to much in my book.
One of the lesser news press releases, comparatively, was the system failure of an airline’s computer. Planes across the country were grounded for hours. I was one such lucky soul to witness and feel the impact by such chaos: my day began with sitting on a grounded plane for six hours. I eventually made it to my first destination, only to have to sleep in the airport until the morning because all the local hotels were filled.
The entire experience was an extremely conscious one for me. I believe I’m still processing the aftermath of it all. The overarching question that immediately came to mind and characterized my observing eye was this: How do individuals and society at large deal with crises that directly impact them?
Common sense and experience tells us that reactions run the gamut – from solemn and withdrawn to visibly irritated and boisterous. Some show signs of quiet exasperation while others feel the need to express every frustration to its fullest extent. The simplest of sighs becomes the main event of Act II in such a melodrama. I greatly appreciated those around that enjoyed a laugh or two over the entire fiasco. At least they could smile through it all, even if they were sarcastic.
Miraculously, I didn’t even have to try to maintain a sense of peace and joy. What did I have to be upset about that I couldn’t resolve within my own mind? I had just spent a long weekend with the two cutest of nieces and my amazing sister. Wrought with playtime, laughs, and familial bonding, the weekend couldn’t have been better.
In addition to harboring a sense of relaxation, I was also in no hurry to return to work. Who is? I’m sure a lot of people are, especially those who travel for business. They have places to be for meetings, mergers, etc. It must be nice to be so devoted to one’s career. Um, no, not really. I’ve been there. When I was single, I turned quickly into a work-a-holic. It’s a very lonely existence, even when you have a beautiful cat to welcome you home each night. But maybe the majority of these business travelers have discovered a healthy balance between work and personal life. One can hope.
But interestingly enough, I found that it was the frequent fliers (mostly business folk) who projected the most self-importance. They skipped the line and went directly to the manager to communicate their personal injustice of being unexpectedly inconvenienced. What makes one person believe they are more important and deserve instant gratification any more than the rest of the hundreds of people in line? I know I couldn’t even ask this of those people though. I doubt they would even understand the question. More than likely, they would be so deeply ingrained in their “problems” that they would simply rant.
I’m not trying to be caustic or judgmental. Truly. I’m trying to point out that moments of crises offer the toughest challenge to remain disidentified with our egos and separate from our pain. When a person REACTS to their frustration and irritation, they BECOME their pain. They are no longer their true self; they are no longer a spirit. They are simply a body.
I will concede that I do not know what it’s like to travel as a single mother with her young children; how to work for a company that puts the weight of the future on one meeting; how to deal with a sick family member who lives states away; or, require a wheelchair to move from point A to point B. My situation is thankfully not so dire and I cannot imagine how my outlook would change. Honestly, I expected my patience to wear out quickly in my current situation. Sitting on a plane for six hours is never a choice experience. Nor is sleeping on the floor in an airport.
But somehow, I stayed in the moment and was grateful for having a book to read, a laptop to watch movies, and a phone to stay in contact with loved ones. Yes, I know it sounds incredibly cheesy. This side of three months ago I was the most pessimistically skeptical person. That was when I allowed my emotions to own me, when external events defined me, and when my pain was all I could see. It is true that your thoughts make your mood, not the other way around. Consequently, I stayed with my gratitude and found peace alongside it. And the ultimate silver lining? I got more time away from the office! Granted, a beach would have been the preferred way to spend it, but still, it was nice.
So when do we reach our limit? When do we lose our patience? And is a limit guaranteed or a foregone conclusion? Or can we maintain a level of peace and calm even in a prolonged crisis?
I will admit that I felt a little bit of the peace fade away after attempting and failing to sleep in the airport. I didn’t expect to be able to. I have particularly extreme requirements to be able to sleep well. But knowing this doesn’t keep away the weariness that slowly disintegrates mindfulness.
You know what, though? I find that if you acknowledge your limitations and accept them too, you’re much more forgiving of yourself and thus more forgiving of others. You still have control and thorough consciousness. The dynamic simply changes, it becomes less effortless, when your physical health is waning.
And that’s where I was. I had to struggle to keep hold of the moment and not let my emotions take me over. I could feel the irritation bubble up inside me and my patience wearing thin. But I still didn’t REACT – act purely and visibly out of emotion. When you’re tired, resisting rash action requires more consciousness and patience with ourselves and others. We need to deliberately pause and take additional time to respond and process. Even when I woke up utterly grumpy on the last flight and was forced yet again to sit on a grounded plane, I kept my frustration within. I acknowledged it, accepted it, allowed it to flow through me, but no one around me could bear witness to it.
For me, this is the key paradigm shift that I wish to see in our society: allow emotion (irritation, frustration, hate, fear) to occur, but do not act out of it. Do not project it on to others. What does yelling at another person accomplish anyway? It just creates more negativity.
Being kind, on the other hand, can quickly lift spirits. When I finally made it to the counter to rebook my flight, I thought little of myself and more of the lady helping me. She’d been there for ten hours already another three or four in store. I didn’t smile at her to get special treatment. I didn’t wish her a speedy return home to get food vouchers. I treated her with kindness in hopes of improving her day. Because chances are, most of the people she assisted weren’t so kind.
But I am hopeful that we can change. I am hopeful that we will expand in our consciousness, spreading peace and joy and love rather than hate and anger. And maybe, just maybe, such a shift will even prevent crises from the start.