Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why I'm waiting for the poof

The other day at work my (consistently unreliable, unprofessional, untrustworthy, immature--oh yeah, lots of love there) coworker did something and acted towards me in such a way that left me absolutely livid--adrenaline racing, flames on the side of my face, the whole shebang. (All safely contained under a veneer of cool, calm professionalism, of course, unlike some people.) Mind you, my reaction was completely justified. "You are completely entitled to be annoyed," my boss told me. Which, yes, I was. But after it was all over and done and the rage monster safely back in his cave, I was still thinking about it. I remained irked; the annoyance still rankled inside me. On the one hand, I knew I was perfectly justified in feeling that way. But on the other hand, I knew that I didn't have to feel that way, or at least that I didn't have to continue feeling that way. While I can't control other people's behavior, how I react to their behavior is completely up to me. This is a pretty revolutionary shift in thinking for me, and something that I've slowly been coming around to over the last few years. If you had told me ten years ago, or even five years ago, that feelings were something you could control, I probably would have laughed in your face, or started speaking to you in robotic voice, "Robots no feel feelings, beep beep boop." And maybe you would have gotten mad, because you were trying to tell me something real and serious and true and I mocked you for it, or maybe you would have shrugged it off, because you would have known, being a sane, rational human being, that how you react to someone else's idiotic behavior is, of course, completely under your control.

This has been a difficult concept for me to internalize, going as I am on a three decades old belief that your feelings are your feelings and there is nothing you can do about it. If I am mad I am mad, if I am hurt I am hurt, if I am heartbroken I am heartbroken, and all I can do is hope that eventually, with enough time, these feelings, or at least the intensity of the emotions, will dissipate a bit. And sometimes, it takes a really long time. I have long suspected, without actually being able to prove it (I can't exactly take a survey), that I might feel things more deeply than other people, and take longer to get over things. But if I did, I told myself that it was just part of my makeup, like how I was also taller than some people, and better at languages than some people and worse at math and sports. I thought it was luck of the draw. I knew I could control my behavior, but my emotions were a free for all. 

It was reading about Buddhism that really turned me around. Or at least opened me up to the possibility that there is an alternative to being ruled by your emotions. I became open to the fact that, at the very least, it was possible for other people (i.e. Buddhist monks), though I remained unconvinced that it was a reachable goal for me, personally. The process of non-attachment, even for brief periods of time, seemed too hard, too monumental. It still does. But even the fact that the possibility of it exists makes everything feel different than before. 

And I tried yesterday, really I did. Whenever I felt the annoyance rise back up inside me I thought, "Just let it go." But I couldn't. A few seconds, or a few minutes later, and there it was again. -Knock knock. -Who's there? -Your anger. -Go away. -Ok...[ten seconds later] Knock knock. -Go away! -No! Knock knock! -Gah! -No, not gah...guess again! It was like having an internal dialogue with the world's most annoying three-year-old.  

Later that day at yoga, the teacher asked us to evaluate if we were still carrying anything from our day, and hey, guess what, I was. I know because I was thinking about the work episode at the exact second that she said that. She suggested that if we were still carrying something in our heads, to just let it go, "poof." This resonated eerily with something my therapist has said; that in talking about things that bother you (in a therapeutic setting in which you are charged by the hour, of course), sometimes those things will just disappear...poof. She accompanied this with a hand gesture indicating, perhaps, a wisp of smoke, or a bird flying away. Let's just say that thus far I remain deeply skeptical of the "poof."

Home from yoga and still--still!--annoyed, I contemplated my inability to let things go, decided I was an abject failure as a human being, and started my period. Oh. So I cut myself some slack, ate a bunch of chocolate biscotti, and actually started feeling a lot better about things.

How do you deal with anger/annoyance/negative emotions? Are you able to just let them go--poof? Or do you struggle with them like me? How do you get past them?  


  1. It helps me to take a walk. Being out in nature and appreciating the sky, trees, water makes me feel better afterwards.

  2. U will get better, with practice overtime. U may take a few days to get over this particular incident, but if u are consistent in practising detachment, the number of days will get shorter.

  3. I think that "poof" moments are practically impossible if you have pms. Once that passes, it gets easier. I can't offer much advice as I tend to obsess about certain incidents. Yoga usually helps me, though.

  4. The two things that help me most are a good workout and writing it down. Plus twitter has also been good for instant rage gratification. ;)

  5. I had an similar experience with a coworker, but instead of just becoming angry, I became angry and quit my job. I needed out of that job anyway, but this particular reaction to another person's behavior shocked me. Since then, I really try to evaulate the situation and focus on active things I can do to improve it. I also mediate. However, sometimes I believe you just need to be pissed off for awhile, especially if it is merited.

  6. I have been exactly where you are right now. I read a lot of self help books and I think a lot and I've spent a ton of time in therapy (just like you). I think Buddhism is brilliant and mostly have been trying to hone the "poof" for a very long time. But I think this: there is no "poof" in the wisp of air gone up in smoke kind of way. "Poof" is whatever emotional process you find to move through your emotions efficiently, without making them a part of you.

    I have a couple of terrible co-workers that have helped me practice my "Poof" and I've found it's not always the same. Sometimes breathing deeply for several seconds is enough. Sometimes taking my journal into the bathroom and scribbling out my terrible thoughts is enough to release them. Sometimes I just let myself get so angry that I lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry. But I don't let them see me, rule number one.

    What has worked the best with these particular people? Killing them with kindness. I fake my alliance to them, and my interest in their stupid issues and children JUST long enough for them to believe that I give two shits and they miraculously stopped talking about me behind my back. Perhaps they do it further out of earshot, I don't know but it's enough for me to feel like these people are no longer emotionally an issue for me.

    Occasionally they still make snide remarks to me or make me feel incompetent, but somehow I have gained enough emotional power back that I don't give a shit. I have the upper hand now.

    And when I don't, I can always go somewhere and cry.

  7. One more thought on "poof": Ram Dass wrote on meditation, which is essentially non-attachment, right? He said to think of your thoughts as leaves on trees. Shake each leave off of the tree, which is now over a babbling brook, and watch it as it goes downstream. Acknowledge the leave, accept it's purpose and watch it wash away. Do this until there are no more leaves on the tree.

    (And now I am officially a hippy.)

    1. I like this. I tried it a little bit at yoga. I don't know how much it helped but I like the image.

  8. It's a work in progress, it won't be easy.
    Good for you! xo

  9. Hey Rachel, interesting post..
    I personally deal with anger in two steps. Because I recognise it is one of the most damaging feeling we can experience as humans..and I never let this feeling cripple me.

    First, I deal with the person that has made me angry.
    Whether they are friends, family or colleagues, I tell them how I feel until they are able to empathise with me. I am quite good at doing that so it works 90% of the times.
    Secondly, I will make a decision in my head to either adopt an attitude that will prevent the issue from happening again, or I decide to completely ignore the person that is at the origin of the issue.

    Either way, to me, the issue is dealt with, which means that I no longer feel angry.

    Last Friday I was made responsible at work for errors that I should not have made accountable for, because I had just arrived in the project.
    I was really angry to have been put in that position.
    So I spoke to my boss about it, as well as all those involved in the project. They recognised that they had been unfair.
    And I know now how to never be in that situation ever again.
    So I am ok. the anger is gone.

    I was also angry with a friend of mine, whom I have been very supportive with in the last few months.
    But he had just become very selfish since meeting his new girlfriend.
    He cancelled me last minute the other day, for a really cool event, which really affected me because I really wanted to go,,
    I simply told him in a text message that I felt I was giving a lot more that I was receiving in the friendship.
    He didn't acknowledge what I said in his response, so subsequently completely ignored him!
    He has been trying to contact me for the last few days, but I am not giving in for now.
    And I have made my point which is important.

    So you see, in the examples above, you have the two scenarios.. Explanation + resolution for the future
    Explanation + walking away from the situation

    Both help at resolving the situation, and also at removing negative feelings!

    All the best Rachel.
    I personally know very little about Buddhism, but I practice Taoism, which is my life philosophy now..

  10. I'm the kind of person who holds everything in, including anger. I don't like to show anyone how upset I am over something, and when someone makes me angry, I feel that if I blow up and make a scene, they win and I just look like someone who cannot control herself.

    Luckily, I'm not in a position (hello, unemployed pet mom!) to be angry very often, and if I am, it's most often at myself ("why did you get an Arts degree?? why can't you be more confident in your abilities? why did I leave the iron plugged in for 5 hours??").

    When I'm feeling twisty and angry, I find taking my dog for a walk helps the most. Or watching something on tv/internet that will distract me long enough to calm down. And yoga helps, but then I get angry when I can't get a pose right...

    You'll be ok :)

  11. I have a temper. I hold it in with most people until I explode, and I've been compared to a volcano spewing from the pits of hell. It's gotten better as I've gotten older because I've learned to just address issues quickly....which gets me labeled a bitch sometimes.

    That being said, I also completely forget I was mad almost instantly. The husband has woken up very cautiously before because of an argument the night before, only to realize I don't even remember having the argument (until later in the day when I realize it and get mad for not staying mad). I think this probably stems from the fact that I do (bluntly) state my piece, and then I subconsciously and done with it.

    So my recommendation would be to just bluntly tell the person what they said/did that pissed you off, tell them you're clearing the air, and see if just telling them helps. I think holding back tends to cause us to have trouble letting go of what we're holding back on.

    1. Yeah, when I tried doing that (happened to be over the phone), she started yelling at me. When I asked her to stop yelling she said, "I'M NOT YELLING!" When I mentioned that well, in any case, could she lower her voice, she hung up on me. Since then it's been cold shoulder city (on her end, though I'm perfectly happy to return the favor). She's one of those people who will be completely in the wrong but if you try to say anything, she will attack you for it. Beh. Meh. Argh.

  12. two degrees of separationJanuary 30, 2013 at 10:09 PM

    A suggestion: don't interpret 'non-attachment' as telling your feelings to go away. Rather, acknowledge them and be with them and name them. Don't push them down, or spend your energy putting up a fight to keep it out of your head. Just be... or, as you'll often hear this referred to, try "sitting with your feelings". Here's an excellent write up by a teacher I love, explaining the Buddhist teaching it originates from: Hope you find this helpful, or at least food for thought. (I struggled with the concept for several years, and am only now really grasping its 'power', so to speak, in handling negative emotions.) Best of luck. (PS: I may have out-hippied that commenter above)

  13. This is something I battle with on a daily basis, the 'letting go' of the negative feelings. I really struggle to disengage from them. I find it helps if I just accept the feeling, aknowledge it, and ride it out.