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Making Incremental Changes

Mike L
Experience submitted by Mike L

I’m quite a fast walker, which most of my friends can attest to, and even when I’m walking at what I consider a relaxed pace, I still pass lots of people on the sidewalk.

Where I have lived so far, driving hasn’t been essential, and so my everyday experience of “road rage” has been limited to “pedestrian rage” in trying to pass people on the sidewalk or in grocery stores who seem to almost intentionally get in my way.

I’m sure it’s more coincidental and unconscious, but if I try to pass on their left, they sway their arms out to the left and move that way. I try to pass on their right, and they move to the right and block me. I just can’t get past them. It kind of reminds me of a hilarious Mr. Bean skit.

Initially, I would feel extremely irritated at those sorts of people. I would curse them in my mind, and after passing them, I would feel considerable frustration and walk extra fast, just so they were more aware of their slowness.

My mind would continue with angry thoughts, fantasizing about turning around and telling them to learn to walk better or wanting to give them a dirty look, etc.

With the techniques of awareness and self-observation, and later the elimination of the egos I learned from Belsebuub’s work, I began to catch myself in these states of frustration and actively go against the anger, bringing myself back to the present moment.

Over time, I began to catch myself sooner and sooner, breaking the cycle of negativity from after I had already passed the “offending pedestrians” to, perhaps, the moment I was first trying to pass them and feeling thwarted.

With more persistence, this impatience was further reduced so that I could catch its first manifestation: almost an anticipation that the person I wished to pass would get in my way.

It sounds odd to anticipate a frustrating situation and to have anger beforehand, but that’s just what was going on: a small spark of anger would be ready to ignite given any justification from my mind. This, too, I had to reduce.

Eventually one day, after a few weeks of diligent work (it was not an overnight process!), I found that I could pass people, regardless of the situation, without feeling any negativity at all.

It was so much of a change that I only noticed after having passed a series of people that got in my way that I hadn’t reacted at all. The emotional pattern had been broken.

Improving Interactions with Others

Through one of my places of employment, I had to work with an individual with character traits that were particularly effective at getting under my skin. This individual would interrupt me mid-sentence, sometimes make snide remarks during my presentations, and take my work off on irrelevant tangents that caused others in the workplace to feel stressed and annoyed.

In the beginning, I recall struggling to respond calmly to that individual, while feeling an immense, seething rage towards them, and wanting to roll my eyes and get the approval from others that this person was a troublemaker.

I would observe my emotions when interacting with them, nonetheless, but I felt very weak and as though I could have snapped at any moment due to the strong emotions.

It was actually quite frightening to look within and see such darkness and such strong anger.

To my great relief, things did get easier. The individual in question didn’t change their behavior, but as the weeks went by, I found myself more able to take a step back, to listen to them with respect, and to even feel more warmth towards them.

At the same time, I became more capable of separating my own negativity (a mixture of pride, impatience, fear, and irritation) from the objective need to be more assertive and to not give them so much control over some of the situations.

I found that I could regain control of the situation, while at the same time feeling a state of calmness and compassion.

From these encounters I was learning about how to act with consciousness, free from negativity, even if that meant standing my ground, which on the surface could actually sound aggressive.

Although my negative feelings may have led to my taking a stand anyway, the drive behind such my behavior and the eventual consequences would likely have been quite different.

I could have perhaps hurt that individual or brought hostility into the workplace, and that would have been very bad.

Transferable Skills in Dealing with Rejection

What I find most striking with these incremental changes is that a change in one situation may lead to changes in different situations.

I remember at one point, a friend had canceled plans together only to go out with another group of friends. Actually, this was far from the only such occurrence throughout my life, but with this particular event, I was able to observe myself quite carefully.

I felt betrayed and disrespected. The usual sorts of negativity associated with being hurt and feeling unwanted emerged, and I worked hard to observe my emotions and reduce them.

Shortly after working through these emotions, I was with two of my friends and also someone who was more of an acquaintance. This acquaintance, right in front of me, began to make plans with my two friends. Plans where I was clearly not an intended participant.

Then the three of them discussed these plans as though I wasn’t even with them.

The same thing had happened a few weeks prior with these individuals and I felt quite offended and hurt.

But this time, I didn’t feel a strong reaction.

I calmly listened to their discussion and after a few minutes, we returned to a conversation that we were all part of.

Even though the situations were a little different, I realize that a similar set of emotional states are involved—states like pride, in wanting to be well-liked, and attachments to events and people.

By reducing one series of reactions, my response was improved in a different situation.

  • Nice one on becoming a peaceful pedestrian Mike! 🙂

    When I started to feel more emotionally resilient to people’s judgements it was a huge relief for me. It’s so common for people to live in fear or upset from ideas they have of other people’s judgements of them.
    I remember once, years ago, I was at a busy social event and someone I had just met started telling me to look around and see how everyone was imagining that everyone else was looking at them. So no one was looking at anyone, actually, but in fact were just caught up inside. It was quite a profound, and sad, realisation, and something that inspired me on my way to look for ways to break out of this kind of mental maze, where no human contact is actually possible. Anyway, I know your stories weren’t exactly related to this, but for some reason I was reminded of it!

    • What a great insight that person shared with you at the event. It is really sad to see just how much we rely upon what we think others think of us in order to function. There’s definitely a lot to reflect upon there. Thanks for sharing that nugget!

      • Yes, that’s a good insight Ella. I can relate to the feeling of constantly being on guard against the judgements of others, which builds up so many defences and restrictions as a result.

        I’m very grateful to have found a way of overcoming some of these anxieties, which has brought greater opportunities and allowed me to meet people who I probably wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t sought a different way of living.

  • Hi, Mike. Thanks a lot for sharing these experiences. It was helpful to read them now.

    Like Lucia mentioned what also stood out for me was how sometimes being aware can actually mean to stand your ground. I find it really difficult to distinguish sometimes, but I’ve seen how the only way to really discern what is best is by being clear and aware. Otherwise pride and offence may make me act in an overtly assertive way or fear may make me passive and the consequences of both are not good.

    Actually at the moment I’m in a small similar dilemma at work and I want to see what would be the most intelligent way to act. I’ll need to reflect on it and watch closely!

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences Mike! It’s inspiring to read and be reminded of the day-to-day work of self-observation.

  • Thanks Mike. Very informative and constructive experiences that shows what changes can be made if people work towards them. I can definitely relate to those frustration egos. Just went to type on my keyboard and got inhibited by a cord hanging over it and spotted one of those small/not so small frustrations.

    It has been illuminating for me to notice how the subtle and common threads of anger seem to to nearly always come up in situations where ones will is being checked, blocked or subverted. Everything really does come down to understanding and changing. Huge well done and I hope your enjoy the extra peace and hopefully some extra flight time to go with it.

    • Yes, that’s a very insightful observation on the common threads of anger, Adam. From an animalistic perspective, if something is an obstacle, the way through is to lash out and attack, so I guess it makes sense.

      Your example of the frustration of the cord is very relatable. I’m often astounded by how such small triggers can bring about such a destructive inner state. Computer problems are a huge weakness of mine as I can often feel powerless in the face of a malfunctioning machine. Computers might not be alive, but they can sure provide plenty of opportunities for self-discovery as we interact with them.

      • I can really relate to “computer rage” Mike and Adam! Computer and printer malfunctions have been one of my pet peeves for many years – especially when a deadline is fast approaching, I have no idea how to fix the problem and the online “How To” guides or knowledge base doesn’t resolve the issue either.

        I’ve found that any activity can be transformed into a hugely stressful event when there is a pressure of time, which I feel unable to meet. Having said that, these everyday frustrations have been a big source of learning for me over the years. For example, in some cases, the impact of time pressure can be reduced by being strict with how I prioritise my time – so that the important tasks can be completed ahead of the deadline, with an allowance for unforeseen complications.

        However, I have also found it extremely challenging when social pressures resulted in situations where I’ve known that I’m unlikely to be able to meet the expectations placed upon me, but it has been difficult to persuade others to make adjustments, or understand my perspective. For me, a big part of managing the resulting stress has been learning to say “no” – even when others may become annoyed, or think I’m being lazy etc.

        Of course, I don’t advocate being awkward just for the sake of pride, but I’ve found that working on the egos overall can give a more objective perspective on whether I’m doing the best I can, or whether there is an underlying defect that needs to be addressed.

  • Thanks for sharing these insights Mike, I enjoyed reading about them and how small changes add up to the bigger picture. It feels like that you were able to make a larger impact on some stubborn thought patterns by tackling those smaller details. I often find myself wanting to change big things and make an impact, but these larger emotions and ways of behaving are a combination of many smaller reactions, thoughts and feelings. It’s a great reminder to look out for these details and not neglect them.

    Haha, “Pedestrian rage” that made me smile 🙂 I can definitely relate to irritation that comes up when someone cuts you off or walks as slow as like they are standing still, but I guess my legs are too short to get to the pedestrian rage state 🙂

  • Inspiring to read Mike, thanks for sharing,

    There’s two Facebook pages that have thousands of likes; one is called: ‘I want to punch slow walking people in the back of the head’ and the other is called: ‘I secretly want to punch slow walking people in the back of their heads’. Pedestrian rage is possibly a widespread phenomena; hopefully people liking those pages will find the spiritual work and put them to good use as you have.

  • That was very enjoyable to read, to tag along in your situations and the inner learning you got from them Mike.

    I wouldn’t deny there are also bigger changes possible. Yet I would say studying ourselves intimately in this way and working to make the changes is very important. This is our life. And in those daily events we have the things we’re attached to from which we can extract ourselves.

    Some of the things you mentioned I could relate to very well.

    Good luck with your further investigations Mike!

  • Thanks for sharing these experiences Mike. You touched upon some scenarios that I can really relate to in my own life.

    I used to have a lot of impatience when trying to move quickly through crowds too, particularly when I needed to catch a train at a certain time to avoid being late for work. But I also saw elements of pride when going for a more leisurely walk. For example, when I passed a slower pedestrian, I would congratulate myself on being such a fast walker.

    However, over recent years I’ve seen the other side of the coin and gained a perspective on what it’s like to be slowed down due to illness and have impatient people around me. I’ve had the occasional comment from strangers over the years and more recently had quite an unusual situation where I was walking slowly through a hospital corridor and was overtaken by an elderly lady with a walking stick!

    I could also very much relate to the situation with your work colleague, as I’ve had a similar ongoing scenario over the last few years, in which I’ve been in daily contact with someone close to me who has provoked strong negative reactions in me.

    In my case, the situation caused me quite a lot of physical suffering, as well as psychological anguish, due to their limited ability to understand the perspectives of other people. I can very much relate to the feelings of pride, which you described, as it has been easy for me to react and think “if you cared about me, you wouldn’t let me suffer like this”.

    However, I’ve gradually gained a greater understanding, and have seen how removing the burden of our psychological baggage can really make a difference to our own lives and the lives of those around us. Since most people unfortunately don’t want to change, the onus is very much on us to change our response to the poor actions of others. In fact, after a challenging situation today, I was reminded of Jesus’ prayer at the time of his entrapment and crucifixion: “father forgive them, they know not what they do”.

    On a lighter note, your mention of the interrupting colleague reminded me of a light-hearted TV quiz, where guests would sometimes go off on tangents. I remember the host would sometimes say “moving on swiftly” in a friendly manner, before directing the proceedings back on track. Imagine how the situation at work could have easily erupted if you hadn’t managed to keep a lid on the anger boiling up inside you. Whereas, under the right circumstances, a light-hearted quip like the TV host made could have quickly diffused it.

    I think it takes a lot of wisdom and understanding to learn how to deal with difficult situations and it’s certainly not a case of “one size fits all”, as I’m sure you’ve discovered through your own experiences, so I wish you a lot of strength and wisdom in choosing the right approach.

    Good luck against those pedestrians! 🙂

    • Oh dear… outpaced by a granny 😀

      That must’ve brought up a few things. Wonderful to have the inner work though which enables the ability to be free of the many reactions such a situation might bring. The inner strength built is what it’s about anyway, all our bodies will decay and end at some point.

      • Yes, I agree Karim – building inner strength is far more valuable in the longer term, since our bodies will all decay in time.

        I used to do regular weight training years ago and was proud of my physique, but I was also very unhappy with my life. So I feel I’ve gained far more by learning how to gain strength internally, as even if I was able to spend a lifetime trying to look like Arnie, I realise now that there’s no lasting happiness in physical gains, whereas it’s possible to create happiness not only for the duration of one’s life, but also beyond it, by making the spiritual work a primary focus.

    • Yes, Michael, it’s so important to see the “other side”. Nothing too serious, but I’ve had a few injuries that have had me hobbling or limping slowly for a couple of days, and I face a completely separate set of egos when other people pass me by and I feel like I’m in their way. I’m actually grateful to have seen that side, too, because it has helped me with more empathy towards the people who get in my way.

      LOL, I love that “I would congratulate myself on being such a fast walker”. That’s an ego I think I let slide all too easily!

      Sorry to hear about the person close to you causing you so much pain over the years. But from those encounters, it sounds like you learned a lot, even being able to have forgiveness. I think that’s awesome; being able to forgive is priceless.

      The “one size fits all” mentality can indeed be an obstacle. When I was first starting this inner work, I often looked to others in how they behaved or tried to guide my actions based upon what others had done in previous situations. But I often was blindly following someone else and the results were not too good. I remember one nasty argument that arose because I wasn’t really listening to someone; instead, I tried to apply an “algorithm” based on what I knew someone else had done, instead of paying attention to the situation at hand.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on this!

      • Hi Mike,

        It’s good that despite suffering with those injuries, you were able to experience the perspective of being the slow pedestrian as a result and gain a greater level of empathy. It seems that empathy often comes through suffering, as it gives direct experience, which has a much bigger impact than just an intellectual idea of trying to be good or helpful.

        It’s a pity that we need to learn through suffering, but it seems that our understanding is so limited without experiencing the consequences of our actions first hand. Sometimes it can seem like the divine is a punitive tyrant, when the suffering is relentless. But there is also a great deal of love involved, as the understanding that comes from suffering can actually be a precious gift, which surpasses any kind of material wealth.

        It reminds me of the rite of passage in some African tribes, where a young man would be deserted to fend for himself, facing the distress and anguish that the situation brought. But once he had gone through the initiation successfully, it would become apparent that his elders were watching him all the time, looking after his safety.

        In many ways, I feel I got a lucky break by going through various hardships throughout my life, as it narrowed down my options to such an extent that I was effectively left with no other choice than to follow a spiritual direction as a primary focus.

        Regarding forgiveness, I think this can also come about through suffering, as along with self-knowledge, we also gain a deeper understanding of how the rest of humanity is. It’s easy to take things personally when on the receiving end of selfish or careless actions of others, but it’s just the way humanity is as a whole. To give an analogy, it’s like the whole of humanity runs on the Egocentric operating system, unless it’s upgraded to the Love operating system by doing a spiritual work.

        I’ve seen animals acting in terribly cruel ways, particularly cats, who often take pleasure in torturing small creatures, such as mice. But since it’s part of their programming, I would need to be angry towards all cats if I became angry towards one, just as I would need to be angry at the whole of humanity for its unconscionable cruelty.

        Having said that, it’s often still a struggle to put this understanding into practice when on the receiving end of selfish behaviour, but I think it’s a case of stripping back the layers of an onion, where the overall weight gradually becomes smaller in size.

        A couple of talks from Belsebuub relating to these issues stood out to me, so I thought it would be worth sharing them here:

        Cold Indifference

  • Thank you for sharing these Mike, It was inspiring and amusing (especially the Pedestrian Rage one) to read! 🙂

    I also liked what you found out in the second experience, about separating your own negativity from the objective need to stand your ground. I still have problems with this, and the only thing I have found so far is that my attachment to the problem or situation makes it impossible for me to react in a calm and non-conflicting way, yet alone standing my ground…

    It was also nice to read how you were able to get over the feelings of rejection in the third case and just listen to those people in a detached way as an observer. I think this is a great state to be in – observing things but not letting ourselves to be psychologically immersed in them.

About Belsebuub

Prior to withdrawing from public life in 2010, author Belsebuub had written several books and many articles on the topic of self-discovery. Read more

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