Gurdjieff was a late 19th century teacher. Students came to study and live with him on his estate near Paris. There was one man in the community no one could stand because he was impossible to get along with. He complained constantly and had such a short fuse that you never knew when he was going to explode over nothing. He made everyone's life a misery and the other students just wished that he would go away.
Gurdjieff taught by making his students do things that were completely meaningless - with the purpose of making them pay attention to their reactions and learn from them. It wasn't the useless tasks that were important, it was the students' inner experience that mattered.
One day the students had been told to dig up an area of lawn growing on one side of a path and replace it with lawn growing on the other side. This was too much for the man that everyone disliked. He screamed that he was fed up with Gurdjieff's useless chores, threw down his shovel, stormed to his room and got his suitcase, got in his car and drove away, swearing never to return. The rest of the community was delighted to see him go, and cheered as he drove away. But when they told Gurdjieff what happened, he said “Oh, no!” and went after him.
Three days later they both came back. That night, when he was serving Gurdjieff his supper, his attendant asked, “Sir, why did you bring him back? It was so much more pleasant with him gone.” and Gurdjieff answered very quietly, “Between you and me; you must tell no one. I pay that man to stay here.”
This annoying person, and people and experiences like him, are life's therapeutic irritations. They exist to wake us up. Like the sand in the oyster that is the seed of the pearl, therapeutic irritations stir a reaction in us. We can choose to resist them, or we can use them as chances to awaken. They teach us what it is not possible to learn when surrounded by ease and harmony.
Though it's not easy and I frequently fail, I try to let these therapeutic irritations show me where I need to pay attention, areas like developing patience and controlling my angry temper. [Usually they show me exactly how impatient and ill-tempered I really am, but that in itself is a lesson.]
Obviously I need the practice because someone is paying several people to be in my life right now. So far so good, but I'm beginning to get a headache.
Story from Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Shambhala, 1994