“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~ Pema Chödrön
“Do you know how to use the French press?” He asked.
I felt mild irritation arise. I was already on my second cup of coffee for the morning with a solid 30 years of coffee making experience under my belt.
“Have you ever used that particular French press?” he pressed.
I found my reply catching in my throat as I tried to find gentleness in my response, but wanted to scream, “Of course I know how to use a f*cking French press.”
I explained that indeed I had used the French press in question earlier that day, while feeling strong white heat arise in my body.
My colleague continued, “I’ve found it very difficult to press. Oops! See, you are spilling some over the side.”
At which point, I calmly picked up the press and put it back on a different counter and walked out saying, “I don’t think I have the capacity this morning to do the helicopter parenting thing over my coffee-making skills.”
I was on day 14 of a group retreat in France. As an ambivert (defined as someone on the spectrum of both introvert and extrovert), I struggle with being in groups for extended periods of time, preferring mostly to be by myself. However, I also value the power and importance of community, having founded Community Meditation™ on Mind Oasis, a program that brings meditators together online from around the world each day for live guided meditation. The contrast between the two dynamics within me sometimes feels as contradictory as they sound.
I decided to remove myself from the irritating exchange to go and eat my eggs. I hoped that maybe the coffee-making advisor would leave the kitchen in the meantime, and I could silently make my coffee however I damn well wanted upon my return.
“Once you create a self-justifying storyline, your emotional entrapment within it quadruples.” ~ Pema Chödrön
I sat in an exquisite garden taking in the sights and sounds of a beautiful morning in France as I ate and glumly reflected on the exchange.
Moments before, I had finished my personal meditation practice, and it concludes by wishing all sentient beings health and happiness. I took an extra moment to take personal responsibility for making sure this happened today. I was determined to keep lovingkindness toward others in the forefront of my mind—all day long.
I couldn’t believe how quickly it had gone downhill. First, I felt shame for my flippant comment as I walked out the room. I also felt anger that I couldn’t make it 30 minutes before returning to my natural pattern of feeling irritation in groups. Then, I threw in the third arrow of guilt for being a sh*tty practitioner. My heart was completely unsettled.
However, with my next breath, I remembered the power of my meditation practice. I took a slow and mindful breath. I felt the air on my skin and the ground underneath me. I reminded myself that it was going to be okay. The good and bad news, depending on where you are in the daily ups and downs of life, is that everything changes.
I made my way back into the kitchen. A fellow Mind Oasis meditation teacher and friend was there. I shared what had happened and that it was weighing me down. I explained I really didn’t know what to do with the irritability that was arising, especially after I had just pledged to help all beings be happy and free.
She laughed and told me that when this happens to her that she simply looks inside, knowing that whatever is irritating from the outside can be found inside, and that’s where the lesson lies.
“It isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.” ~ Pema Chödrön
As the founder and leader of Mind Oasis in charge of 30 meditation guides, I frequently tell people how to do things, often unsolicited. As a wife and mother, I offer unsolicited advice all the time.
I had caught myself red-handed in the act of not being able to take what I dish out!
Never would I have come to this conclusion without my spiritual friend reminding me that we are all mirrors for one another. I would have tried to muscle my way into being right, or worse, I would have ruminated on it by replaying the conversation in my head all day long.
Instead, because of having a community of practitioners around me, I was able to walk over to the coffee guru and thank him for the opportunity to work with my afflictions and mean it.
He smiled with his eyes and heart and we both went on about our day peacefully caffeinated.
“It is possible the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and lovingkindness, a community practicing mindful living.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Immersing ourselves in community gives us both the opportunity to work with our old habits and patterns and the opportunity to lean on others for guidance. Introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, time in community is as important as our time alone while we walk along our spiritual and meditative paths.