As a Turbulent Mediator, I never get angry. When friends flake on our plans together, I make sure they don’t feel guilty about it. When a stranger runs over my foot with a shopping cart, I say, “Excuse me! So sorry about that.” And when a waiter brings me a Caesar salad instead of the nachos I ordered, I don’t point out the mistake. In fact, I’m grateful for the extra vegetables.
At least, that’s what I tell myself. Or, more accurately, that’s what I told myself for a long time.
The Final Straw
Not long ago, I noticed that I was carrying around a lot of tension. My jaw clicked and ached and sometimes slipped out of its socket when I chewed. My shoulder muscles were so tight that a massage therapist asked whether I’d recently been in a car accident. And let’s just say that my blood pressure rose whenever I got stuck behind a slow walker in the long, long hallway to my gym’s locker room.
So, I signed up for a singing bowl meditation at a local yoga studio. Have you ever encountered one of these events? Basically, everyone lies on the floor, wrapped in blankets, except for a practitioner who uses a mallet to coax eerie, beautiful sounds from a series of crystal or metal bowls. The experience is meant to be profoundly relaxing, and some people say it even has healing benefits.
I made sure to arrive early, so I’d have plenty of time to hand over my money and get comfortable before the meditation. There were a dozen or so people in attendance, and I unrolled my mat at a comfortable distance from everyone else – but not too far, of course, because that might seem unfriendly.
(Oh, the elaborate internal calculations of the Turbulent Mediator.)
Then the singing bowl practitioner, a woman clad all in white, lowered the window shades and announced it was time to begin. I closed my eyes, ready to relax. The first tones – lower, quieter than I’d expected – rippled through the air.
The door to the room squealed open: a latecomer. Footsteps creaked across the hardwood floor. Please, I thought to myself. Please don’t make me get up and move my mat.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I squinted my eyes open. The practitioner crouched beside me. Would I mind, she whispered, moving my mat to make room for the newcomer?
Of course not! I jumped to my feet and dragged my mat aside, my mouth wrenched into a tight smile. My jaw popped and clicked.
I settled down again, pulling my blanket back to my shoulders, and closed my eyes. The bowls were arranged in a wide semicircle, and as the practitioner stepped from one to another, the bowls’ resonances – those lovely sounds that were supposed to relax and heal me, those sounds I’d paid to hear – were drowned out by the creak of the old hardwood floors.
Well, I thought, isn’t this interesting. An opportunity to face expectations and distractions and let them go. Isn’t that what meditation is all about?
Except I couldn’t seem to let go. Why, I wondered, couldn’t the practitioner play the bowls more loudly, or at least walk more gingerly? And why, why hadn’t the studio scheduled the event in a room with a less creaky floor?
My shoulders tightened, and my heart beat fast. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. I slipped into elaborate fantasies of complaining to the practitioner and the yoga studio, of demanding my money back.
Maybe if I thought I’d actually voice my disappointment, I could have mentally moved on and – creaking aside – enjoyed the rest of the meditation. But I knew I wouldn’t complain, wouldn’t say anything except, “Thanks so much, that was great.” So, I laid back and stewed in the unfairness of it all.
On top of all that, I resented myself for not enjoying the meditation. So there was a little background noise. Why did it feel like such a big deal?
No, seriously – Why?
Anger in a Bottle
If, in that moment, you’d asked me what emotion was overtaking my body, I might have admitted feeling frustrated, or upset, or even helpless. But I never would have owned up to anger.
To me, anger feels like a bad word. As a Turbulent Mediator, I care about maintaining harmony with others, and I often second-guess how I feel. To be honest, I don’t want to be thought of as the kind of person who gets angry. My advice to other people is always to honor how they feel, but when negative feelings course through my bloodstream, I judge myself, big-time. Wouldn’t a more enlightened person feel happy and peaceful and accepting all the time?
Not necessarily. Anger – along with its little sisters, frustration, annoyance, and resentment – serves as a cue that something isn’t working for us. We feel anger when something in our external world – whether it’s someone else’s behavior or our own – doesn’t resonate with our sense of what’s right and fair. If I ignore these cues, chances are I’m not going to act on what’s bothering me. Besides, tamping down my feelings means I’m not being true to myself, and the idea of not being true to myself makes my Mediator heart shrivel just a bit.
By ignoring these cues, I’m also robbing the people around me of the opportunity to really know me and how I feel – and that means I’m basically cutting off my relationships at the knees. People can’t read my mind, nor should I expect it from them. If I don’t speak up about my experience at the singing bowl meditation, then I’m not giving the studio owner an opportunity to get me as a repeat customer. And if I don’t let my friends know that my feelings are hurt, then I rob them of the opportunity to show up the way I need them to – if they want to, that is.
All of this sets me up to feel resentful, stifled, and disappointed. Even if I manage to keep my anger bottled – and, let’s face it, these feelings have a way of becoming toxic, which is why I freaked out so much during the singing bowl meditation – I’m not honoring my emotions, I’m not taking action on things that don’t feel right to me, and I’m not being honest in my relationships. And that’s not how I want to show up in any aspect of my life.
So, you might be wondering, did I ever share my feedback with the singing bowl practitioner or the studio owner? Well, dear reader, I didn’t. Some lessons don’t sink in right away. I left the studio feeling stressed and dissatisfied – both with the meditation and with myself.
But I’m learning. Tonight, if a waiter brings me a Caesar salad, I won’t pretend it’s what I ordered. I won’t act like I don’t mind, all the while simmering with frustration. I won’t stew on the subject for so long that, months from now, I’ll be writing an article about that time I shoveled lettuce down my throat instead of eating what I really wanted.
So, what will I do? I’ll smile, remind the waiter that I ordered nachos, and get on with my life.
At least, that’s the plan.