The plan was to take a short break. I’d been working hard. And with my wife and daughter heading to the park, I figured a brief pause to see them off would be good for me. Five minutes or so, and I’d be right back to work.
But things don’t always go according to plan.
I got up from my desk, joined them as they walked down the stairs, and waved at them as they headed toward the park. My daughter gave me a big smile. All was well.
Returning to my apartment, I couldn’t get in. Somehow, the door had locked when I closed it before going downstairs.
I reached into my pockets for the key. They were empty.
No worries, I’d run downstairs and catch up to my wife. She’d give me her keys, and I’d get back to work.
But she didn’t have her keys either. With the building manager out for at least two hours, there was no avoiding the reality. I was locked out. And since I didn’t have shoes on, I was confined to our building.
I’m supposed to be calm in such situations. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. Right?
I’m supposed to be gracious in such situations. It was an accident. No one was to blame. There was no reason to get upset. Right?
I’m supposed to be thankful for the good in the situation. At least it happened during the day. At least I was able to wait in the apartment building. At least I had clothes on. There’s a positive to every situation. Right?
I’m supposed to be able to let such situations go. There was nothing I could do to change it. Waiting was the only option. There was no need to get frustrated about what I couldn’t control. Right?
That’s the theory. As for the practice, well…
I paced back and forth.
I walked up and down the stairway.
I got upset at my wife.
I got upset at myself.
I replayed the whole situation in my head and wished I could change even one small part of it.
I contemplated breaking the door down.
I thought about the work I wasn’t doing.
I got stressed.
I checked the door ten times. It was still locked.
It took a whole thirty minutes for me to relax enough to pull out the pen and paper my wife had given me before making her way to the park. I took a seat on the floor in the hallway, and started reflecting on the experience. I noted what happened, how I felt, how I responded, and how I wished I had responded.
As I was writing, I wondered what lesson I was going to take from the incident. What was I going to learn from it?
I realized that my struggle was not an isolated event. It had been building for days and months before.
My meditation practice had been lagging. I’d been doing a few minutes a day – if any at all. So when what I needed most was to sit and breathe deeply, it wasn’t on my mind to do so. I didn’t have the support of my practice.
I hadn’t been getting much rest. It had been a week of hard, intense work, and I hadn’t stopped to unwind and relax. So when the circumstances demanded my full capacity to stay focused, I didn’t have the energy to do so. I didn’t have the support of my practice.
How we respond in the moment is influenced by the choices we made before. When things get tough, we fall back on the habits and practices already in place. The stronger the habits, the more likely they are to support us when life gets chaotic.
So when things are quieter, train. Build up your practices. Teach yourself to be stronger. And when times of challenge come, you’ll be ready.
I’m returning again to my practices. I need them. I’m making sure I get rest. I’m making sure I meditate. And I’m making sure to check my pocket for keys every time I walk out the door.