I once forgot to pay rent. Several days after it was due, I got a letter in the mail noting I was late, that there was a penalty, and that from there on forward I was to pay only by mail order or cashier’s cheque.
I became furious. This was the first time I’d forgotten to pay the rent! The requirements they were imposing seemed draconian! It was unfair!
Mostly, truth be told, I was furious at myself. How could I possibly forget such a thing? I’m a smart person! I remember all sorts of things! Knowledge is my identity!
I was still angry when I met up later with a friend to do some work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything done (or do anything right) in that state, so I told them the whole tale.
And they laughed. And it wasn’t one of those “I’m laughing with you” kind of laughs… they were definitively laughing at me.
That didn’t appease my anger one bit. “What is so funny?”
“Are you human?” came their reply.
That was… and odd question. “Yeah…”
“And do humans sometimes forget things?”
I knew, immediately, I was busted.
Or, more precisely, my calculating self, so full of fury and self-importance, knew it was busted.
“Great. Are you ready to give up your anger now?”
I fixed them with a stare. My calculating self was not going to go down so easily. “No.”
“Ok. Let me know when you are.” And they turned back down to their work.
It took me a few minutes more to stop taking myself so damn seriously. The central self returned.
And with that the rest of the day went swimmingly. As did my conversation with the office staff at the apartment, which resulted in them willingly waving all those ‘unfair’ conditions on my future payments.
It’s so funny* how wrapped up we can become in our identity, such that even the most human and common of things becomes a lighting rod and catalyst for upset, anger, blame throwing, casting aspersions, and more. How vigorously we can work to defend something that doesn’t even need defending, how our clinging to a view (or views) brings down so much provocation.
And just how crappy that all feels. How much it ruins our day (or longer). How much time it can occupy. And how much of a hindrance it is towards doing and completing that which we do want to do, and that would bring us joy.
The super funny thing is that it all felt so darn right to me. Until that moment where, with their piercing question, my friend interrupted the calculating train there was nothing other than all the fury and unfairness. Of course I should think that way. Of course it was that way.
Developing mindfulness to catch those crazy trains is a wonderful thing, as is having a conductor like my friend who can split the cars and put the brakes on those same trains. The deal isn’t to avoid or resist the calculating self and its train; the deal is to choose whether to get on or not, and even then (or if we discover our automatic decision was to get on…) we can still always choose when to get off.
Because wouldn’t you know it? Things tend to be a lot more peaceful, a lot more clear, a lot more productive, and a lot more enjoyable when not caught careening on a runaway trip to Smashville.
* And I mean this with full honesty, no hidden sarcasm here: I am truly fascinated by and find it hilarious how we humans sometimes operate, and how hijacked we can become. If anything else in this story, I learned how endearing it can be to live inside of that world of “do humans sometimes…?” It means a lot more love and relatedness towards others, myself, and the crazy communities we create and live in.