I was getting out of the subway today and this young guy pushed past me, OK, maybe it wasn’t clear I was also leaving the subway, but it felt like he pushed past me, and almost stepped on my foot.   Boy, was I mad.  Within a nano-second, I noticed a cascade of thoughts and feelings careening inside my head and body.  “This should not be!”  “Who the hell does he think he is?” And my absolute favourite, the, icy and oft- used,“How dare you.”

I wanted to explode, and give him a piece of my mind.  My sense of righteous indignation was powerful.

My assumptions:

  1. I knew I was leaving the subway, after all, I was standing near the door.  Surely he noticed, “I was here first?”

  2. I am older, and should not have to fight to get out (dammit!).

  3. Although he didn’t hurt me, by stomping on my foot, he could have…I was sure of it, and that sense of certainty about something uncertain was enough to kick-start my engine.

As all this information was firing through my system, I became aware of another, much quieter voice, trying to suggest that this was the perfect moment to employ mindfulness.  “AS IF!” was the response from my reptilian brain.  Mindfulness-Shmindfulness –  in that moment, I couldn’t seem to remember anything, except “kill, kill, kill!”

So there I was in the odd predicament of feeling really reactive and aggressive, while watching myself feeling reactive and aggressive.  I couldn’t “do anything about it,” was my thought.  It felt too big.  But what I wasn’t able to see at the time, is that doing nothing and just watching, was the practice.

After 20 years of working with mindfulness I’ve begun to notice that aggression and reactivity still arise.  Yay.  The difference? Practising the practice has given me the little bit of gap I need to see my desire to jump down someone’s throat, before I actually do it.  Acting on impulse always feels so good and powerful in the moment, but it doesn’t take much searching for me to remember too many incidents where giving vent to my rage or reactivity just made things more polarized, more hostile, more intractable.  Trying harder works if you want to be a bully, and make things tougher.  If noticing my assumptions and softening my view wasn’t available to me in the moment, doing nothing was.  And that felt mindful.

Learning how to notice the triggers and textures of rage and reactivity, helped me at least be present to my own strong feelings and just  be there as it all went down. If that’s not mindfulness, I’m not sure what is.


Elaine Smookler