It’s Sunday morning.
Last Sunday morning, to be precise.
I’m swimming in the local pool. I want to get a good hour of swimming in before the day ahead.
The day ahead involves being naked.
And sitting in a sauna with up to 20 other naked people.
Naked German people.
When my friends visit me here in Germany, I take them to the sauna. They think it is awesome and weird and the most relaxing experience.
And it is. Truly.
So. I’m swimming in the pool. I’m probably 30 lengths into the 100 I plan on completing.
The lane I am swimming in is empty. I delight in this. I love an empty swimming lane. I feel content and at one with the world and I am excited about finishing my workout and getting in the sauna. I am thankful for the empty swimming lane.
Or so I think it is an empty swimming lane.
As I approach the end of the lane, and just before I turn around to start swimming back (I can’t do tumble turns, bugger) I notice a tall, bald man swimming right on my heels. I estimate he is just 15 centimetres away from my feet. I am confident in my estimate that he is 15 centimetres away because I suddenly remember one of those 80’s half-sized rulers I used to have in my pencil case at school, and I roughly calculate this is the length of his hand. He is one hand away from my feet, the fucker. I fantasise, in that moment, about whacking him with one of those 15 centimetre half-size rulers.
“What an idiot” I think, “Who does he think he is?” “I hate it when people do this.”
I stop, grabbing hold of the wall and glare at him.
He looks kind of shocked and a little terrified.
I indignantly gesticulate at him to go first, and he does. He now seems hesitant and a bit sheepish.
I get cross when people tail-gate me. In the pool. On the road. When I’m walking in a city centre. It pisses me off. I like my space.
Another 10 lengths of the pool or so helps to dissolve my burning anger towards the tail-gating, 15 centimetre handed swimming man.
And I start to think.
About why I got so cross.
And how, up to the moment I realised he was right behind me, I had thought I was alone in the lane. I hadn’t realised he was there until I started to turn around and yet he had probably been tail-gating me for the entire length of the pool. Maybe more.
It was only when I saw him, centimetres away from my feet, that I felt anger towards him.
I did not feel this anger towards him before I noticed him, because, duh, I didn’t know he was there, and therefore him following me so closely and unknown to me, wasn’t a problem for me until the moment I realised what he was doing and had a thought about it being a problem.
Which reminded me of something. Something I must learn and re-learn and practice and re-practice, probably for my entire life, and it’s this: A situation or circumstance (i.e a man tail-gating me in the pool), is NEUTRAL—it is not wonderful or bad or terrible or exciting or not annoying or really annoying, or anything, until I have a thought about it (“What an idiot”, “Who does he think he is?” “I hate it when people do this.”). It’s only when I have a thought about something that it starts to determine how I feel about that thing (i.e, anger towards the man in the pool).
In a nutshell: My suffering (and your suffering)—whether it’s ‘small’ and a bit silly, such as my tail-gating swimming man-type-suffering, or ‘big’ suffering such as losing your job or your partner leaving you-type suffering does not lie in the situation itself, but in how you choose to think about the situation.
A situation or a circumstance just is……. Until you have a thought about the situation.
It is you who creates meaning from the situation and labels it as good/bad/annoying/frightening/amazing/beautiful. The situation is neutral. It’s your thoughts about the situation that shift in from neutral to a situation that is good/bad/annoying/frightening/amazing/beautiful.
Is your head fried?
It’s all a bit mind-boggling, isn’t it? You’re well on your way though, to understanding how your brain works and how it affects you.
When you’ve had a shit day, the world is also shit
When you’re in an amazing mood, the world is amazing? Isn’t everything great?
And yet the world is just the world. The difference you experience is all down to you.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.”
~ Jack Sparrow (who, yes, I know is a fictional pirate. Still an awesome quote though).
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, here are links to two Facebook videos where I talk more about this: Video 1 | Video 2. (As the videos were filmed live, there’s a few technical difficulties towards the end of video 1) 🙂