I went to Trader Joe's in New York City the Friday before Fourth of July.
The place was nuts - a line out the door with an anxious energy of "Let's buy as much as we can and then get the heck out of here."
A woman aggressively bumped into me with her shopping cart. Startled, I turned around, expecting her to apologize for the fender bender in the dairy section.
Instead, she moved down the aisle with NO APOLOGY.
My instinct was to think, "This woman is rude, self-centered and completely unaware she has to behave like a polite member of society."
But, I tried something different.
Full disclosure - I had just finished the book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.
The author Debbie Ford talks about how the very things that annoy us are usually the things we need to focus on ourselves.
If we're really upset about someone who seems greedy, we may need to focus on our own desire for wealth. If we're irritated by someone's self-righteousness, we may need to focus on our own determination to be right all the time.
Debbie Ford writes that we can't truly embrace our whole selves until we embrace the things from which we run and hide. In the spiritual community, this aspect of ourselves is commonly referred to as our shadow.
Back to the woman at Trader Joe's - I decided to use her as a catalyst for understanding my strong reaction.
Why was she pushing my buttons?
I thought of a time I was so flustered and impatient that I wasn't fully aware of my surroundings and maybe I was even a little...rude.
Let's see - there was the time things got tense with a cab driver. We had different "views" on which route was the fastest during rush hour.
Or how about that time I felt irritated on hold with customer service while setting up cable - 20 minutes is my breaking point.
Oh! And that time in airport security when they opened up a new line after I had been standing in the LONGEST line on the planet for nearly an hour.
I wasn't necessarily pushing people at the grocery store, but I definitely had the capacity to be rushed, impatient and maybe even a little rude.
But to be honest, I was still a little skeptical. Who wants to think about their flaws all the time?
Wouldn't putting attention on my imperfections make me feel badly?
So I tried it for a week:
When I was irritated with someone's messiness, I remembered the time I let the dishes pile up.
When I was bothered by someone's rage, I remembered a time I felt so passionately about something that I would've done nearly anything to be heard.
When I was angered by someone's sense of entitlement, I remembered a time that I, too, felt like I really deserved something
I thought that putting the focus on myself would make me feel guilty, but instead I noticed a softening in my heart toward all people, including myself.
I had compassion for people having a rough day and I felt more connected to people I probably would have judged.
I started to see how, as Debbie Ford writes:
"When you understand that you contain everything you see in others, your entire world will alter...When we reclaim these disowned aspects of ourselves, we open the door to the universe within. When we make peace with ourselves we spontaneously make peace with the world."
I slowly released the idea of separation and ego. It started to feel like we were all in this thing called life together.
It turned out to be a pragmatic approach to owning your shadow, connecting with others and softening how you view the world.
The next time you're feeling annoyed by someone or something, ask yourself, "Where in my life have I exhibited that same quality?"
If you're skeptical, then start small.
Notice your reactions to people at the grocery store, post office or DMV. Who you do instinctively want to judge? Who gets under your skin?
WARNING: This exercise is in NO WAY intended as a tool for beating yourself up or amplifying your flaws. Don't judge yourself. Look at each thought as an opportunity to get closer to knowing yourself and releasing your ego a little bit at a time.
You may be surprised by what you notice. Root your discoveries in the idea that whatever we try to deny about ourselves takes up a LOT of energy.
And we can use that energy to be comfortable in our skin and more accepting of people who, on the surface, *look* different from us.
Think about family members you don't see eye-to-eye with or that one colleague who rubs you the wrong way. Wouldn't it be great to approach your relationships with a little more softness?
The purpose of understanding ourselves after all - darkness, flaws and imperfect reactions included - is to come to an even deeper level of acceptance of ourselves and others.
Check out the full book. It was published in 1998 and Debbie has been on Oprah and featured on her Super Soul Sunday series. The book offers practical tools for releasing your ego as well as a comprehensive approach to looking at your flaws and even LOVING them.
And if you need me, I'll be shopping at Trader Joe's on a Sunday night...just so I can have the growth opportunity of really getting to know myself.
Wish me luck.
Best wishes and deep breaths,
Now I want to hear from YOU. What helps you stay calm when frustrated with other people at the grocery store or just in LIFE? Write in the comments below!