To be human is to be in a relationship with difficult people.
The reality is if all the difficult people in our lives felt deep kindness in their hearts, they would cease to be difficult people. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.”
Aside from learning how to create a calm and stable mind, one of the months in my 6-month global online program A Course in Mindful Living is spent entirely on learning how to realize the power of compassion and connection in our lives formally and informally. This not only impacts us, but the people around us, and the emotional contagion of it can create immensely beneficial ripple effects.
There’s an informal practice that I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high.
One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car who seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO.
In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars.
That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important.
My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind.
So I said…
“May I be at ease…” (Me)
“May you be at ease…” (The out of control sports car driver)
“May we all be at ease…” (All the drivers on the road)
Doing this simple three-part practice took me less than 30 seconds and rapidly transformed my experience from disconnection and rage into connection and balance.
To me, happiness means that I have a rock-solid internal sense that no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be okay.
This practice gives me that feeling. It makes me move beyond seeing the other driver as just another jerk on the road (in other words, an object) and instead as a person. It gives me the experience that I’m actually okay.
You don’t have to be on the road to test drive this. I strongly suggest giving this a shot when dealing with difficult people and seeing what you notice.
Warning: It just might create a whole lot of peace in yourself.
And as I quoted earlier, “Peace in yourself, peace in the world.”
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Creator of the 6-month global online program A Course in Mindful Living.