I was sitting in my therapist’s office waiting room when a young woman hurried in and plopped herself and a large bag down on one of the couches. She turned her body so that her back was up against the arm of the couch and her feet were on the cushions. She then proceeded to flip through her phone and a rapid session of shrill beeps, blips, and bops followed. Every once in a while she would LOL (for real.) She seemed to be in her own world, oblivious to all around her.
My first reaction to her presence was judgmental, “Who the hell does she think she is?!” I then checked myself. I was sitting up straight, in one chair, feet on floor, purse on lap, phone in purse set on silent. I was the perfect passive-aggressive poster child for waiting room decorum and this woman never took the hint. The noise, noise, noise! I found myself getting irritated.
Now I could have stewed over being irritated and started a rumination of every time in my life that I had been irritated, ultimately ruining my day, which in of its self is irritating (and one of the reasons for said therapy!) Oh I could have taken that poison like I had done so many times before. Not today! Instead, I opted to play a game.
“I point to myself” is a powerful and humbling centering exercise I was taught in my master’s program. It illustrates the concept of Oneness (i.e. we are all connected to each other and to the universe.) The way to play is to physically point at yourself and say (out loud if possible) “I point to myself”, then point at something or someone and say it again, “I point to myself.” Do this several times, always pointing to something different in between the times you point at yourself.
So I looked for the connection. I knew nothing about this woman but I could just about guarantee she was not there to deliver pizzas. Could it have been that she was there for the same reason I was, to work through some stuff that’s got her down? Once I realized that we had something in common, I was able to see a little bit of myself in her and a twinge of empathy came over me. And when I admitted that I had probably behaved in a similar manner somewhere in my checkered past, I saw some of her in me and cracked a smile. When I changed my perception, I changed my emotions and my irritation diminished.
Why do I bring up the phenomena of this woman in that moment? I’m glad you asked! Passing judgement without having all of the facts is a slippery slope to be on. Moments of minor irritation come at us constantly throughout the day (screaming babies, people who can’t park, or walk too slow, etc.) and more times than not, we find ourselves quick to judge. When some (or all) of the facts are missing, fantastic stories are often created to fill in the gaps, ultimately leading to the belief of falsehoods. Often times these stories cause unnecessary grief and misery (e.g. my Grinch-like irritation.) Who has time for that?!
While we might not have control over the moment we are in, we can control our perception of it. When I point to myself, I find the common ground. I find empathy and most importantly, I find peace.