Don’t Feed the Sharks

It is both rush hour and the unofficial start of the weekend. Sluggish traffic moves in dribs and drabs of chrome and tinted window. I am in my car, and this is my third time to circle my destination.

I am bad with directions. I can’t parallel park. And I can’t find the entrance to the parking garage.

When I finally make it into the garage, there is a white car ahead of me at the kiosk to get a ticket. Two garage attendants are working on the kiosk; they have it open and are trying to load in more paper. When they take out the entire printing mechanism, the younger worker smiles at me apologetically. I pass that apologetic smile along to the man in the white car, because he wants to back out of the parking garage. As bad as I am with directions, I’m worse with driving in reverse. My spatial reasoning skills are non-existent, and the entrance to the parking garage is a corkscrew of concrete and orange-plastic barriers. If I back down, I’d either hit the wall or destroy my rims on the curb. I’ve destroyed rims before; it is an expensive habit. So here we are, stuck in a situation we never would have chosen.

I experience the events in my external world as being indicative of my psyche and, from that perspective, there was nothing accidental about my parking garage misadventure. This past week, my mind has snagged in a whirlpool of counterproductive thought. The same angry reasoning keeps circling around itself, swimming just beneath the surface like a shark in shallows. Impatient and nipping, it goads me into wasting time considering things I cannot change. It is not meditation. It is aggravation. I go round and round, just like I did in the parking garage.

The circling thoughts generate two contradictory urges. The first is to lash out, to inflict my anger and indignation on someone; it is the equivalent of smashing right through the lowered parking garage arm. The second is to try and suppress my anger, which would be the same as getting out of my car, walking out of the garage, and pretending not to notice that anything is wrong. Neither is a graceful solution. Is there a third way, one that is not driven by the heckling, sharp-toothed thoughts fraying my calm?

I think there is. I can accept my feelings because they are legitimate denizens of my psyche. They are me, I can’t hide from them and remain at all self-aware. Acceptance doesn’t mean pretending not to feel something. It simply means welcoming the sensation, and taking it as a reminder to be mindful and practice compassion towards myself as I deal with the emotional storm. Mindfulness prevents me from lashing out in damaging ways that would only serve to increase misery by spreading it to others. This doesn’t mean I will avoid the situation or not address the problems. I will, but out of a place of co-operation rather than anger. It won’t be an attack or a recrimination, but an opportunity to make things better than they are.

Each interaction is a chance to become, and every challenge is an opportunity to decide how to live in the moment. It’s easy to be nice and practice loving-kindness when things are going well. It’s reality to need to learn to practice when the thought-sharks are nipping.

The other night, in the parking garage, I drove up to the roof. I stood at the side and looked out on the city that has become my home. I looked up, and saw the stars I have grown to love and welcome in their yearly transit. I couldn’t have reached that point without a lot of circling – both within the garage and on the street before I found the entrance. What seemed like a setback led me to a beautiful moment, and I believe that if I stop feeding my sharks a diet of anger, I will end up exactly where – and who – I need to be.

Update:

The situation that was making me angry has been resolved. By tending my anger and not allowing it to cause me to lash out at someone else, I was able to focus on doing what I could to help the other person (who never intended to anger me). The act of co-operation ended with feelings of gratitude on both sides, and is proof that well-tended anger can produce good outcomes.

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15 thoughts on “Don’t Feed the Sharks

  1. There are so many things I love about this.
    The part that made me smile was the idea of getting out of the car and walking around, pretending the situation wasn’t happening.
    I love this: “Acceptance doesn’t mean pretending not to feel something. It simply means welcoming the sensation…” and that whole paragraph. I feel that there is often times an assumption that loving-kindness and compassion is something you can instantly do by choice…but without a lot of practice of accepting and not fearing the more gritty feelings, that loving-kindness is sort of like a ghost with no real substance.
    I love this, I am so glad I read it this morning.

    • Thank you for reading my post, Jennifer. I love your blog, and your words have already been a positive influence on my path of learning how to live life better and with more compassion. Those of you who have not visited EnjoyLifeForOnce.wordpress.com – please, check it out.

      I agree that the tough emotions, the ones that we tend to hide out of shame or societal conditioning, those are the ones that present the best (and most difficult!) opportunity to practice loving-kindness. It is easy to feel love when everything is going great. It is far more difficult to feel love, to radiate it towards yourself and others, when you are angry or scared.

      I hope you have a wonderful day!

  2. I feel a little less alone after reading this. It seems like everyone else is good at parking in parking garages except me! I find them twisty, confusing, and a little bit scary. I use them a lot becuase I have to, but they intimidate me every time.

    • I’ve driven them the wrong way, forgotten which floor I left my car on, and once – couldn’t find my way back into the garage at all! I prefer parking garages to parking on a city street, but parking isn’t my knack, no matter the venue. I also am not a fan of the way parking garages make everything echo – a horror writer’s imagination isn’t fun to have in a late night, light-flickering parking garage!

  3. I love that you seamlessly communicate what I can only manage with the use of expletives. I reblogged you. This time, I didn’t feel I had any other choice.

    Everyone needs to read this.

    E.

    • I hope that more than just reading, people will try living mindfully. Emotions are such violent tempests, and a lot of them are disproportionate to their object. It would be wonderful if everyone could just take a breath, or an evening, or a week – before lashing out with the intensity of those first emotions.

      Thank you very, very much for sharing this with your readers, E; that means a lot to me.

      -aniko

  4. Hello Aniko – I’m a little late to the party, but I’m glad to say that my IT problems have finally been resolved, and I’m back online!

    Thank you for this post, and for an uplifting take on difficult situations. Are you a student of Buddhism by any chance? I once read an article by a Buddhist which spoke in similar terms about mindfulness and loving-kindness, and which I remember finding very inspiring, though I’m not a Buddhist myself.

    I’ll have to take a leaf out of your book when it comes to dealing with the thought-sharks. My response is usually to seethe impotently, making both myself and everyone around me miserable.

    • Welcome back, Mari! I’ve missed you. I hope that you had a wonderful time away from the internet, and that you got lots of writing done!

      I am not a Buddhist, but I love the description “student of Buddhism.” I believe that comes closest to describing my relationship to the philosophy. I went through a very intense few years of reading everything I could on Buddhism, and even engaged in daily meditation practice. I drifted away from it, but life has brought be back to those ideas, and they resonate even more now.

      Internal seething, for me, results in lashing out about something that is only tangentially related to whatever was upsetting me. That was the modus operandi of most of my teens and twenties. Now I am trying to alter that pattern, and it is easier than I thought it would be, but it does take careful attention to my emotions and their root causes.

      Welcome back, Mari!

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