Last week, I stopped in to visit a colleague at a hospital where we both worked in a pain program for the last 2 years. She didn’t have time to go for coffee, so I decided to pick one up after our meeting.
I had 20 minutes before I needed to leave for an appointment and was really looking forward to an iced decaf Americano. I hesitated when I saw that the line inside Starbucks was very long, but the person ahead of me assured me that it would only take about 5 minutes as there were 5 staff members on.
After ordering, I chatted with another customer — Linda – who had been behind me at the pickup counter. It seemed to be taking an awfully long time and when Linda was called for her drink, I realized something was wrong. When I told the barista this, she told me they had made a mistake on my order and it would be a couple more minutes. Five minutes or so later, they had the drink right, but as the barista went to put on the lid, the drink spilled all over the floor. It had now been 20 minutes and I could feel my muscles tensing and my heart beating faster…
I asked for a credit to use another day as I had run out of time. The barista went to the manager who said she could not issue a credit, but could make the drink in a minute. Unfortunately, the manager herself did not make the drink, it took several minutes, and when the staff person handed it to me, it was a size smaller than I had ordered. Aughhh!
I knew it didn’t help that I was nervous about being late for my medical appointment;. What if my doctor was actually running on time?… As I left the café, it took me a couple of minutes before I could even begin to be curious about the pain, and start to really contact it in my whole being. It took a couple more to feel the compassion begin to arise for myself and the employee as I walked back to the car. It wasn’t super strong , but I could feel the grip of the emotional and physical pain leaving me. My heart rate slowed, my breathing became regular, my shoulders were now more or less out of my ears. I made it to my appointment on time and got whisked into a room within 10 minutes.. . Where I waited another 45 minutes for my doctor.
Denial of Difficult Emotions
I can see the humour in it in retrospect and I’m fully aware that it is a first world problem. But denying the pain of even this small an incident doesn’t serve us. If I’m not able to hold my uncomfortable emotions and sensations with caring and mindful awareness, the ripple effect can be quite negative and far-reaching. Not only for my own physical and mental health, but for my subsequent actions (driving when angry or impatient) and interactions with unsuspecting others.
There are many such events sprinkled throughout our days. If we don’t allow ourselves to make contact with the discomfort that we feel with everyday disappointments and challenges, how can we expect to stay connected to ourselves when the inevitably more difficult experiences greet us? Like injury, illness, loss of employment, loss of loved ones, caring for a family member or friend… We usually try to bypass suffering and go straight to pretending “it’s all good.”
Compassion is about having an open heart in the presence of pain or suffering. It’s a human capacity that allows us to experience pain and then transform it into something useful. Mindfulness and compassion practices allow us to open to the difficult thoughts and emotions we experience without being overwhelmed, without abandoning ourselves, without looking to others to make it okay.
Being compassionate with ourselves helps us to respond to difficult emotions with greater ease and emotional resilience. It also helps us motivate ourselves with kindness rather than the voice of a harsh critic.
Wishing you a healthy and happy September!
Marian and Brett