Saturday, July 27, 2013

Do not let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace

The Dalai Lama has said, " Do not let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace."

That's great advice, but how does one put it into practice? What are the actual mental "tools" used to maintain inner peace in less-than-peaceful situations?

I hate conflict. I just want everyone to be nice and get along. I also sit on the condo board for our building, which has 186 units. People come in a steady stream to my door with questions and problems, this leaks, that's broken, a light needs replacing in a stairwell. Sometimes they simply come because they want to talk  and that's okay too.

But there's one woman who is often at my door. She is loud, aggressive, and frequently gets into arguments with other owners because she's always poking her nose where it has no business being. I cringe when I hear her knock on my door. Sometimes it is a building issue that she feels is a looming emergency, like a loose eaves trough or a mark on the carpet. If I do not put my foot down and absolutely refuse I will be dragged to examine this threat, as if it were a two-alarm fire.

Usually she is reporting on someone else's "unacceptable" behaviour, like propping their door open on a hot day (she does not approve), or "warning" me that she saw a Black person come into the building! Since we have several immigrant African families who live in the building she has to remain on extreme alert at all times. I have made my views on her racism clear, and as soon as she brings race, ethnicity or religion into it I terminate the conversation.

Tonight she knocked on the door in an explosive mood (no pun intended). A resident in one of the ground floor units had guests, and they set off some small fireworks. From her level of hysteria I thought he had done this right on the patio beneath her unit's balcony, but with closer questioning I learned that the fireworks had been taken across the parking lot and set off over the railroad tracks at least 100 feet away. There's a marsh between the tracks and the parking lot, which is a good 75 ft wide. With the flooding and the nightly rains we've had for the last six weeks the grass is waterlogged. You couldn't set fire to it with a blowtorch.

But nonetheless she challenged the two men with their children when they came back, telling them they couldn't set off fireworks, that they were going to burn the building down and in general giving them what-for. One of them told her to go back inside and mind her own business. She lit into him and unpleasant words were exchanged.

After all this she came banging on my door, wanting me to come and tell the men off, or perhaps chain them up and beat them, or what…. it was never clear exactly what I was supposed to do, except "be an expert in the city by-laws about fireworks".

So she launched into me, and the general uselessness of the condo board and then moved on to the classic nobody-loves-me-I hate-everybody tirade. I hugged her and told her I was sorry she was having such a hard time, but she stomped off down the hall waving her arms, crying, swearing and fuming.

I came in feeling like I'd been chewed up and spat out by a bear. I sat here with my heart pounding, sick to my stomach with anxiety. After a few minutes I thought this is stupid. Why should I let her problems dealing with other people her make me feel like this? So I did the following:

1) I acknowledged my anger at her for being so irrational and difficult to deal with

2) I acknowledged my fear that I may sometimes say the wrong things to her

3) Recognize that my initial reaction was to be upset, but it was essentially just a feeling and feelings come and go and are harmless

4) I drew a clear boundary between my emotions and hers and said to myself, I am not going to feel her emotions. This doesn't mean I don't have compassion for her. I wish she was able to deal with people more easily but she is absolutely convinced that she is the world's authority on everything, and she comes at anyone who disagrees like a pit bull.

5) Recognize that *I* decide how I react to her and in this case I decided that her argument and tantrum are not going to disturb my inner peace.

Once I recognized I was experiencing all this unpleasantness I used the tools I have learned over the years to interrupt my own cycle of negativity. The "escape" happened much more quickly than I was able to write it down.  

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