…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger,jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are―Pema Chödrön
When my daughter started school many years ago, it was very exciting to meet all the parents and make new relationships. I found most people to be very friendly and enjoyed my time at school functions and drop off and pick-up. There was one father that I used to try to speak with, however, who was not very friendly. He never said hello, unless I said it first, and never spoke with me unless I started a conversation. But on the times that I did approach him we had some nice conversations.
After about two years at the school, I got so annoyed when I saw him and again he said nothing to me one day that I actually felt a little tightening in my heart. I decided that I would not speak to him ever again, unless he spoke to me first. Of course, I still said hello if our eyes met, but thereafter I never approached him to speak unless it was a necessity.
I felt quite justified with my decision. For a few days following, when I saw him, I was so closed off I felt nothing. I had shut down and, at the moment, it felt better than being hurt and disappointed every time I saw him.
The next week, I arrived at school and learned that this man had passed away. I was consumed with guilt because the last few times I had seen him I had barely said hello. When I attended his memorial service, I found out he was a struggling musician who worked odd jobs to support his family. I also learned he was very uncomfortable at school because he felt he was an outsider. He had been having trouble making ends meet and had no health insurance so he was unable to get the medical tests he needed. His friends all loved him so much and told so many stories about this man who I learned had a very loving and kind heart.
One could argue that he was shut down to me and so my actions were warranted, but the fact is that my actions accomplished nothing, and certainly didn't help me to grow. Should every interaction only be about me getting what I crave? I felt rejected and unwanted so I closed my heart. Yet if I had taken these feelings as a teaching sign that here was exactly where I needed to refocus on love and grace, I would have kept my heart open. Who knows what we could have shared? This man was going through heartbreak and instead of leaning in and showing kindness when I felt hurt, I shut down because I was not getting what I felt I needed.
That day I made a commitment to myself that I would not run away from discomfort or hurt. Leaning into each situation that I perceive as difficult allows me to cultivate more understanding about myself and the world in which I and my children live. If I feel excluded, frustrated or angry, I try to sit with it and examine it. I allow my heart to feel, and I breathe and try to understand the possibilities behind a person’s response or situation. I try to see it less about what I am receiving and more about giving out kindness and love. And I have noticed that this change—this leaning into the situations that I fear may hurt me—brings me more peace and wisdom than shutting down ever did. It also has deepened my relationships with other people.
Maybe all of us can keep our hearts open a little longer today.
Maybe we can stay accessible for even just a few more minutes than we normally would.
Maybe there is something to learn or some way we can help another individual that is suffering.
Maybe staying open-hearted is how the world changes a little bit at a time.