I was recently on a 6-day silent meditation retreat. [To be in the quiet stillness of a forest of redwoods thousands of years old, and then climb to the top of a hill where I could see the buildings of San Francisco peeking out through the fog – quite a contrast in these symbols of being and doing.] As we were about to enter into silence, my friend Rose said she had just read Pema Chodron describing the “mind’s propensity to become annoyed.”
That propensity became an interesting inquiry for me as I settled into silence and relative non-doing. Even as I could slow down and lean more and more into simply being, I could notice my mind react to any-thing with a flicker of annoyance and, even if I didn’t act on it, I was a bit dismayed at the frequency of this propensity.
I began practicing what I had learned a few years ago from M.J. Ryan – “what’s right with this wrong?” Out in the “real” world, there can always be something right with any wrong, even if it’s only that we’re alive and breathing and able to witness this wrong. I found the benefit for me on retreat, where there actually was very little wrong, to be the same as in real life – asking “what’s right with this wrong?” immediately breaks the automaticity of becoming annoyed. The question immediately shifted my habitual patterns of becoming annoyed to a newer pattern of curiosity and that broke the spell. I could more easily keep my mind and heart open to what was actually happening and then find alternative ways of dealing with it.
Exercise: What’s Right with This Wrong?
- Begin practicing by asking yourself “what’s right with this wrong?” even when there isn’t anything particularly wrong at the moment. Simply activating your attention and curiosity to notice any rightness in the moment. And practicing gratitude for that rightness as you notice it.
- When you notice annoyance arising, for a particular reason or for no discernible reason, try asking yourself, “What’s right with this wrong?” You’re simply choosing to shift your attention and open your field of perception to a larger view, the bigger picture.
- As you shift your attention to a larger perspective, not denying the annoyance or the cause of it but opening to the bigger picture, notice if more alternative ways to address the annoyance come to mind. As you discern more options for addressing the annoyance, you are strengthening your flexibility, and thus your resilience. Then you can practice gratitude for that.