As I write this, on what is normally a quiet Saturday morning, I am listening to cement mixers and other elements of building construction that are happening across the street from where I live. It all started at about 5am this morning, accompanied by flood lights and a good bit of noise. It has now been about four hours since then and the noise continues unabated, except in those moments of relief when one cement mixer truck leaves and the next one pulls in.
What I’ve noticed as the morning has unfolded is the power and impact of remembering that there is constantly a choice about how to respond to any given set of circumstances. There’s a possibility of getting irritated and feeling helpless, given that there’s nothing to be done about what’s happening across the street. There’s also a possibility of choosing to use the situation as an opportunity to practice allowing noise to just be there and not bring it into the foreground of awareness. Were I to decide to be irritated about it, it would probably be the only thing I would notice, but that would end up hurting me more than anyone else.
And so, I find I’m having a morning of mindfulness, of noticing where I’m at in any given moment and then choosing to soften any muscles that have gotten tense or tight and inviting myself to return to a centered and grounded state. Of course, if there were any chance I could make the noise go away, I’d be following that action but, in this case, there’s nothing to do above and beyond the noise complaint I put in with the city of New York.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to track the choices you make when you come up against adversity. Obviously, there are places where action is necessary and appropriate, so I’m not suggesting that you allow negative situations to simply continue if you feel moved to take action to correct something. Instead, this is an opportunity to notice those times when the only thing available to you that makes any sense is to notice where you’ve focused your attention and then to track how it feels to let go of things you can’t change, or things that irritate you, and come back to a grounded and centered state of being.
It’s also an opportunity to stay conscious of what’s going right in your world, so that you remember to always return to wholeness. So often, we get focused on one piece of our world or experience and lose sight of all the other things that are going right, or that are in place in ways that support us. It’s important not to ignore those things that are out of place that need to change, that call for our attention, but only focusing on what’s wrong in our environment can also become a habit that leads us to a kind of chronic irritation or state of tension. There’s no betrayal in having access to moments of relief and ease and it’s easier to access these when we bring ourselves back to an awareness of what is also going right in our lives and in our world.
As with all these practices, there’s no right way to do this one. Instead, it’s one more opportunity to notice how your state of mind, the ways in which you focus your awareness and attention, have a profound impact on the quality of your inner life. And, remember to pat on the head any judgments that may arise as you play with this practice. There’s always the next moment to practice allowing the judgments simply to arise, move through, and move on.