That was the question I asked myself as I ran full-speed to the check-in counter in Bangkok after having broken all speed limits through traffic in my pink taxi for the last hour or so.
The lady at the counter gave me a ‘I am sorry-smile’. I was 7 minutes late for my Delhi flight, where I was scheduled to give a Leadership workshop the next morning…. 7 minutes!
The remarkable thing was that it was only 24 hours since I left a 10-day meditation retreat. Basically I trained my mind for hours and hours to observe physical and emotional sensations inside of me without any judgment.
All wonderful when you’re in a beautiful, lush, quiet setting of a meditation centre. But then real life kicks in again….
Within 24 hours of leaving the retreat, I had a call of my main business partner, who said he would leave the business, I missed my plane to Delhi and dozens of other little things that didn’t go the way I envisioned them!
How to stay in equanimity in such situations?
Well, you don’t…..At least, I don’t.
I can pretend I do, but I certainly experience frustration, anxiety, impatience and a mix of other ‘physical sensations’ in the body. My practice is not to avoid these, but to ensure that I process them as efficient as possible. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
In such situations, for me it’s a combination of
Allow any feelings to flow through me in the moment and
Focus on the next physical action (NPA).
Ideally they are sequential, but for missing a plane they happen simultaneously :).
And so while I walk quickly to the ticket-counter to book a new flight, I take part of my attention into my body. I become a scientist watching what’s going on in that fascinating ecosystem that is called my body.
Contraction, annoyance, heat, impatience, worry, tension. They were all present. I take a few breaths and give myself permission for a few minutes to feel that mixed bag of physical sensations.
From that moment onwards it took about a minute or two. Then the majority of the strong sensations passed. I felt fairly centered and balanced again and focused on my next action: buying a new ticket! Luckily there was a still a flight that day with another airline.
I realized that the worst thing that can happen at ANY time in my life is an unpleasant physical sensation in my body. I know that sounds a bit simplistic, but think about it.
I regularly face challenging situations such as a business deal doesn’t work out, a conversation with a family member didn’t go the way I wanted or I need to give a public presentation or speech. The worst-case scenario that can happen is that I end up with an unpleasant physical sensation or feelings.
Now, we can’t avoid all unpleasant physical sensations in our life. We can only deal with them more mindfully and effectively instead of pretending they are not there or judging them.
Unpleasant physical sensations are not negative. They are just unpleasant. I realize that the moment I don’t fear that sensation too much or judge it when it occurs, it’s actually much more manageable. It looses some of its heaviness and impact on my whole state of being.
Do I get this right all the time? Certainly not. Especially when the ‘unpleasant sensation’ is linked to some of my patterns, for example my impatience or my need to control an outcome. Or when it’s a situation that is really impactful, such as losing a beloved one.
Then it gets harder. Much harder. But it’s still possible to practice. And mindfulness helps me catch myself earlier and be more accepting in that process than ever before.
Consultant at the Asian Leadership Institute Consultancy