29 December, 2012

Pet peeves are a perfect place to practice

I couldn’t resist the title of this blog, because of the alliteration.

We practice with a focus on learning to let go of our attachments and expectations, to move toward a real freedom that comes with openness and being in the moment. Right? But, for some reason, I find that the hardest things to let go of are not the “real suffering,” the attachments during tough times, or the reactions to major stressors in my life. I am actually doing quite well in those areas, and seeing myself having taken huge strides forward. The place where I am seeing myself struggle is around those things one might call “pet peeves.”

An example: I have a colleague who is not a particularly strong contributor at work. Not only are they not productive, but they end up wasting a lot of people’s time, and the net effect is to bring down morale in our organization. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the “When are they gonna get rid of this guy?” thoughts. It’s tapping deep into my “River of Shoulds” (I just made up that expression). Why should he get to keep working here? Why should we have to put up with this? They should do something about it. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. The thing is, I am not actually impacted by his presence in any substantive way. He does not block my work. He does not affect my performance. I allow him to be a distraction through my own obsession with his outcome. And I find it hard to let go of this attachment. I will call this a “pet peeve,” and I think it’s a perfect example of why we use the word “pet,” because some part of me (the “ego” perhaps) doesn’t want to let go of it. A pet peeve is an irritation that we love to be irritated by. As such, I think that the pet peeve probably reveals more about me than it does about the object of the peeving. True, in this case, I am not the only one griping about it. But that’s just a case of this being a common area that people get “stuck.” The area of others getting away with something when we can’t/don’t/wouldn’t do it ourselves.

I want to be able to be free from suffering (supposedly… I mean, that’s why I’m doing yoga, at least partially) but I don’t want to let go of this pet peeve that induces completely unnecessary suffering and distraction in my life.

So I would assert that pet peeves are the perfect place to practice, because it’s a fairly low stakes situation, but it’s deeply rooted in the kind of attachments that are truly serving us no good. For me to say I want to let go of the big stuff, but continue sweating this small stuff feels like a short cut. I am running ahead in this marathon of an inner journey, but somewhere, back around Mile 3, my shoe lace got snagged on a twig, and I’m going to keep tripping as a result.

Can I let go of this? Can I decide that this peeve doesn’t serve me? I don’t think this means I need to be Mother Teresa and try to help the floundering to succeed. But I could, perhaps, practice radical acceptance. This is what’s happening, after all. And I don’t have control over it.

Perhaps our pet peeves are about our desires to have a sense of artificial control over things that we cannot possibly control at all. Perhaps they’re roadblocks we create for ourselves, to avoid ever getting to the big scary stuff. So it would stand to reason, if I ever want to tackle the bigger, scarier stuff, I need to be able to let go here.

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