It doesn’t takeÂ much to put my panties in a twist.
I have done the slow burn over jelly knives left on the counter, dripping gutters, scooters in the driveway and cell phones at the dinner table. Iâ€™ve grit my teeth at off-the-beat dance teachers, over-air-conditioned rooms and un-emptied trash cans.
Until recently, my feelings of annoyance felt absolutely justified: the thoughtless dishes in the sink, the distractions during our family dinner seemed to me to be objectively annoying.
But somewhere in the fog and storm of raising children, the word â€śirkitatedâ€ť emerged between my husband and me. Defined as a place of annoyance and deep irritation, a hefty spiky burr under the saddle blanket, irkitation is a place of being badly bothered.
Exactly where the word came from Iâ€™m not sure.Â
As a lifelong resident, I assure you that the state of irkitation is a terrible place to live.
Even when it feels completely justifiable, irkitation feels like unfiltered muck in the veins.
I feel churned up and tight, like I canâ€™t breathe, but a more objective part of me has full knowledge that whatever is upsetting me isnâ€™t as big as it feels inside my skin.
Once I hurled bread across the kitchen because someone had left crumbs on the counter. As that loaf was sailing across the room, I knew something was seriously out of whack.
When annoyance regularly spilled over into outright anger at things that didnâ€™t make sense even to me, I called a therapist.
He was kind and calm and helped me recognize that there were some things out of balance in my internal and external worlds.
My feelings, he helped me understand, were expressions of desiresÂ that needed addressing.
He also recommended a regular meditation and mindfulness practice. I got myself on the cushion and it helped.
My irkitation abated dramatically.
Until I started taking yoga.
Which sounds stupid, I grant you, but there it is.
When I started a regular yoga practice, I was simultaneously terrified of irkitating other yogis and regularly irkitated by them.
I did my best to do nothing that might be an annoyance to anyone in any way.
I followed the studio etiquette.
I didnâ€™t put my mat directly in front of anybody, I didnâ€™t drink water during postures and I tucked used tissues under my towel. I didnâ€™t wear perfume, or come to class after cooking with onions and cumin and I didnâ€™t talk in the studio.
I did everything in my power to be absolutely unirkitating.
All the while, I was plenty annoyed by people practicing around me. The burping guy and the woman who smells like pond water, the mouth-breathers and the water-bottle-knocker-overs could all put a cramp in my asana style.
As usual, I felt justified in my irritation: if someone smells like the underside of a lily pad, well, itâ€™s objectively annoying.
This paradoxical dance with irkitation was not lost on me. I did my best to breathe-breathe-breathe into everything that rankled me.
I kept telling myself to have compassion for the manâ€™s indigestion or for the anxious fidgets on the mat next door. When the woman in front of me fiddled with her shorts then top then bracelet between every posture or when the guy behind me continuously cleared his throat—I told myself that it was part of the practice, to have compassion and just relax for heavenâ€™s sake.
I decided that my problem was that I wasnâ€™t being kind enough or compassionate enough to the people I was practicing with. So I did my best to be kind and generous in my words and in my thoughts before, during and after classes.
This worked sporadically, at best.
What I did notice was that it was much easier to be kind and compassionate after class than it was before.
I didnâ€™t think much about this observation until one Saturday morning.
This particular Saturday was at the end of a rough week. Two friends were in health crises. One had undergone emergency surgery and although she was recovering. I felt thrown by her illness. Another had found a worrisome tumor in her abdomen but her health care providers were glacial in providing even a modicum of either health or care.
All week Iâ€™d been on a steady diet of sloppy insomniac sleep.
Early this Saturday morning, I wasÂ feeling more than a little rough around the edges. After another mostly sleepless night, I figured, what the heck, Iâ€™m up. I might as well go to early yoga. I splashed water on my creased puffy face, swallowedÂ down a cup of tea and biked wearily to the studio.
I stepped into the hot room and, yay!—Sara is teaching! I love her!
But dammit, lots of people love her so even though it is 7:20 in the morning, the studio is plump full. A full studio means it will be even hotter and more humid than usual.
And all my favorite mat spots are taken.
When I do find a spot someone immediately sets up inches away from me.
And she smells funny.
And the tall guy in the back keeps blowing his nose and putting the used tissues on the floor like soggy white flower blossoms around a shrine.
And people are coming in late and theyâ€™re not setting up their mats along the right line.
And it is hot, so flippinâ€™ hot, in the stupid stupid studio, like a steaming wet blanket on my face.
I want to scream.
Silence is the rule in the hot room, but I want to scream at all these people who are being so incredibly annoying and messing up my practice when I really need just a nice, quiet, not-too-hot class and couldnâ€™t-they-all-just-go-away-or-at-least-stop-doing-all-these-things-that-are-making-me-crazy?
Certainly, these feelings are not my fault.
Objectively, these people are causing me to feel like I want to tear up my mat with my bare hands and throw it at all of them. Clearly.
I am incredibly, painfully, irrevocably irkitated.
Be kind, I tell myself. Be compassionate. Thatâ€™s what yoga is about, cultivating love and compassion. Screw that. All I want to do is yell and cry and throw bread.
Then I have a thought: how about if you be compassionate to you?
Youâ€™ve had a difficult week. Youâ€™re scared. Youâ€™re tired. Your resources are low. Be easy with yourself. Be kind to you.
The very thought stops me.
I take a breath.
A wave of relief washes over me.
My whole body softens.
My eyes brim a little.
This is what I needed all along.
My feelings have nothing to do with anybody else.
As Sara leads us through the postures, I just kept reminding myself to be compassionate with me. Youâ€™ve had a tough go of it, be nice to you.
By the end of class, I feel more relaxed, softer, healed even.
Recognizing that itâ€™s me that needed the care, that it was me who needed the kindness interrupted the old pattern of irkitation.
I bike home feeling easier with everything.
Irkitation strikes me differently these days. Whenever I feel the creeping tightness, the crossness with everything and everybody and any baked goods that happen to be around, I know that my resources are low and that I need to have compassion for whatever Iâ€™m going through.
Oh yeah, I can say to myself, youâ€™re dealing with a project that isnâ€™t going well and youâ€™re worried about your student who is struggling. Those things are depleting you and irkitation is simply the result.
I also feel differently about othersâ€™ irritation. When I see someone is annoyed or they look like they might throw a hard roll, I take a breath for them and know that their resources are low, that they are dealing with something or worried about something and that their irritation is the result.
Itâ€™s actually empowering, this new perspective on irkitation.
I used to see irritation as the unavoidable result of external forces. I was at the mercy of the crazy ridiculous annoying things that people around me insisted on doing. In my old view, I didnâ€™t take responsibility for my own irritation.
The reasoning was, â€śWhat can I do? I am irritated because that person is being irritating!â€ť At the same time, I did take responsibility for other peopleâ€™s annoyance. I would blame myself for their upset and see it as my fault.
This led to a lot of feeling upset about things over which I had absolutely no control.
My wise friend, Silvia, works at the front desk of the health club where I teach. She deals with upset, irritated people all the time. The very first thing she always says to an upset person is, â€śIâ€™m so sorry that this happened.â€ť She doesnâ€™t take it on as her fault or responsibility but she recognizes that they are hurt and need some care.
At the core of it, thatâ€™s really what we all need.
So now, when I see annoyance in other people, I do my best to love on them rather than steer clear, since I know the source of what theyâ€™re feeling isnâ€™t me and what they really need, what we all really need is kindness.
When I feel the sludgy state of irkitation creeping up on me, I pause and put my hand on my heart and say to myself, â€śIâ€™m so sorry that this is happening.â€ť
Donâ€™t get me wrong, I still do my best not to set my yoga mat in front of anybody or wear a heavy spritzing of White Shoulders in the yoga studio.
And I still get annoyed and want to throw things sometimes.
More and more, though, when I find myself living in the state of irkitation, I use it as a signal of something else going on, of something that needs attention and care.
If I donâ€™t pick up the more subtle signs, the flying bread is always a clear reminder.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock