Unwelcome Visitor (written 2014)
Woke up cranky this morning. A couple of late nights...well later than I'm used to. And the familiar and unpleasant fug of procrastination lingering: there is a neglected manuscript on my desk. Years of work as a freelance writer and editor have made me very familiar with this aroma. There's no wind that will disperse it except the breeze stirred by applied activity...pen or keyboard required. But,whatever the cause of its arrival, crankiness is an unwelcome visitor. I used to just hope it didn't bring a suitcase and plan to stay long.But I felt a bit like the innkeeper who is gazing at the vacancy sign over the shoulder of a questionable guest. What are you gonna do? The invitation was extended.
Its presence can color the whole day. The more I push it away, scold myself for getting into this situation, the closer it clings. It leans over my shoulder as I check the outdoor thermometer. Yup...still wintry despite the May blossoms my calendar displays. It growls at my side as I mop up the puppy's throw up. Too much of a good thing for him before bed last night. Crankiness is stepping on my heels as I hunker against the cold in my pj's waiting for the pup to poop. And it follows me all the way to my cushion.
I light the incense and the candle, make my bows and scooch over a little way as I settle into sitting, making room. “Invite these unwelcome visitors to tea,” wise teachers advise. It's a smart thing to do. When I tell my puppy “no”, he gets more persistent. I have to get his cooperation gently. Invite him to show off a trick. Shake a favorite toy in his direction. When I tell myself “no” as I reach for a food I know isn't good for me, I feel my back stiffen and the child inside who won't be denied takes it anyway. But if I breathe and let myself imagine how I'll feel after indulging, well, the errant hand returns of its own accord.
So I bring this wisdom with me as crankiness crowds in.. “Here”, I say gently, “sit beside me. Make yourself at home. What seems to be the trouble? Too much to do? Tired? Annoyed with yourself for poor planning? That's the way it is, isn't it? Have some tea. Who else is visiting?” And that's when I can see past this unwelcome guest. There's the breath. Reliable. Consistent. There's the sweet drift of smoke from the incense. A sense of release in my shoulders. There's peace. Yes, peace is here too. Less obtrusive than crankiness, but I see it now. And when I do, oh yes, there is gratitude too. And wherever these two are, I can be sure to find joy as well.
Experience is the teacher here. The reflexive reactions to crankiness are twofold: either express it or hold it in, gritting my teeth and wishing it away. Neither of these instinctive responses tend to be very effective. Express it and I'll get the same back. An irritated remark hurts someone's feelings and they snap back. Ouch! Gritting my teeth gives me a headache and I begin to feel like the cork on a champagne bottle ready to blow. Wishing it away makes me feel bad about myself. Not just cranky now, but depressed and guilty too. That's quite a houseful and a bleak gathering.
Practice has taught me a healthier approach. To notice and accept the unwholesome emotions that visit is to open my eyes, my arms and my heart. And that's when I see that there's a lot of room after all. That's when I notice that “I” am this empty space and that the emotions are only visitors. They don't hold me hostage, they don't define me.
By the time I get up from the cushion I can see that crankiness is pretty much ready to move on. I open the door and smile, take the pup and my breath for a walk. And come back to the manuscript. How blessed I am to do work I love. How blessed to be.