Managing anxiety: coping with irritation

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Treat the world as your mental athletics track.  When you are irritated, use it to learn patience.  Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash  

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like ‘turn everything into the path’.  It means that, whenever you experience something negative, you can always learn something from it, whether it’s patience, or wisdom, or kindness.

In any given day, you will hear, time after time, people complaining of things that are happening to them.  Something is irritating their nerves.

We have several inputs that can do this.  We can hear, and therefore we are vulnerable to sound overload.  We can see, and therefore we are vulnerable to vision overload.  We can taste and smell, and therefore we are vulnerable to disgust.  We can touch, and therefore we are vulnerable to physical discomfort.  We can think and imagine, and therefore we are vulnerable to thought and worry overload.

It is possible to turn even the worst of irritations into something positive.  It’s one of the meanings of mindfulness – the mind accepting what is happening, peacefully.  It can be done.

What we tend to do, instead, is to react.  A loud sound happens, and we recoil.  A confusing sight appears, and we pull back.  Our food taste is unsatisfactory, and we complain, and fill up on sugary stuff.  Our thoughts worry us, and we create even more worry by fighting some strange battle with our own thoughts.

When an athlete is training, then they are often using the resistance of the ground, of air, of gravity, in order to get better at coping.  A good athlete doesn’t react to the resistance of the track by running away from the track.  In the same way, if we choose to learn patience, we can treat the whole world as our mental athletics track.  Everything that happens to our senses can become an exercise in patience.

It can take a while to find ways to turn everything into the path.  We lose our patience regularly, especially when the pressure on our bodies and minds is more than we think we can bear.  We start to complain at the world, and try to change it for our own benefit.  But this is exhausting.

Ultimately, having patience is like wearing a good pair of shoes.  You are protected from the landscape without having to dig it up and make it flat.  Better to design yourself a good pair of shoes, than to try to dig up the whole world and make it flat as a pancake.  Better to learn patience, than to try to flatten the world with your own impatience.

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A MEDITATION

How many times, today, will I become irritated by the sounds, sights, tastes, smells, feelings and thoughts which I experience?

Can I ‘turn everything into the path’?

Can I be like an athlete of the mind, and use the world as my athletics track?

Can I develop such a useful pair of shoes – such expertise in patience – that, whatever terrain I find myself in, I can walk there without problems?

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