One of the goals behind my mindfulness practice is to get away from having nasty, negative thoughts about other people. Not because other people don’t deserve to have nasty, negative thoughts thunk about them; obviously, many people do. Car drivers, for example, earn more than their fair share of such thoughts.
Not to mention my housemate.
The trouble is, what goes on in my head has zero impact on other people. The thoughts can lead to actions, anything from an unpleasant look on my face to a raised middle finger and curses the driver doesn’t hear no matter how loudly I yell because, well, they’re in a damn car, aren’t they? No, the problem with nasty, negative thoughts is that they are tantamount to dropping a warm, wet turd in my head.
Ok, that’s an unpleasant thought, too. Sorry.
There are two basic ways to respond to a negative experience. One, to let habit and emotion control your reaction. Reactivity is thoughtless (pre-thought), it allows emotion to dominate, and the unwanted side affect is “Consequences be damned!” All kinds of unwanted stuff can follow, such as saying something stupid, inciting a bad response from another person, or negative reactions to yourself, such as shame and guilt, for having “failed” to respond “properly”.
This shame and guilt, at least for me, is the worst part of reacting in an unmindful way. I end up with feelings I don’t want to have – and it’s made worse by knowing it wasn’t necessary. Because the other basic way to respond to a negative experience is the mindful way: being aware of the rising of a negative reaction, acknowledging the source of that reaction (especially the emotions involved), refusing to judge yourself simply for being human, and then making the deliberate, active choice to not respond negatively but in a way that fits with your values.
Given that all of this happens in the space of a few seconds, and that negative emotions can overwhelm you before you’ve even had a coherent thought, a mindful response isn’t the easiest thing. (To be a bit more accurate, the body’s negative response is usually triggered by a part of the brain that activates long before the conscious brain even gets any data to work with. Whee.) This is why mindfulness is a practice for which there is no right or wrong, just the intention to maintain the practice regardless of what happens in any particular instance.
The foundation of a mindfulness practice is doing daily meditations, of which there are a multitude to match each individual’s needs as they progress through life. But given that a meditation only lasts from fifteen to forty-five minutes, at least for those of us living normal lives, the development of the equanimity that will result from the practice over time may not match the need for the challenges of today.
Like your housemate being a jerk.
This is where each person has to develop some means to get them through the day as mindfully as possible. For me, I am finding that singing does the trick. It doesn’t have to be out loud, although that’s actually easier and works when I’m bicycling or driving. The point of singing for me is that, since the mind can only focus on one thing at a time – multitasking ain’t a thing; check the research – if I’m singing along with Jimmy Buffett in my head, I am not able to mentally rant at my jerk housemate.
I’m not even able to think about my jerk housemate. The human brain is a single-minded critter, so to speak. If my brain is singing
Nibbling on spongecake
Watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered in oil….
then my brain cannot be simultaneously ruminating on my jerk housemate leaving the kitchen a mess because he doesn’t care about his impact on other people.
Focusing on the podcast I’m listening to can have the same effect, although doing something active, like singing, works better for me. The whole point is that letting the behavior of another person corrode my mind and experience is both unwanted and avoidable. I always own the choice of how to respond to the worst behavior from another person.
I can react impulsively and suffer the unpleasant consequences.
Or I can sing “Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye” to the opportunity to let negativity harm me and instead join the late, great Karen Carpenter and sing “la lala la la, la la lala la la … just sing, sing a song.”
(And in case you are wondering, neither of those songs ever enter my head. But the music I do listen to didn’t make for a nice, wholesome ending.)