Last week during the train ride in to work I sat at a two-seater sit and took over the whole space spreading my bags, computer and work papers. I put my head down and dove into my work. Productivity was on.
Next thing I know a guy called my attention to ask to sit with me. Almost automatically without any thought I let out a sigh of frustration and silently thought to myself: “what? you want to sit where?!” don’t you see everything spread out everywhere?”
A bit frantically I gathered my belongings, quickly stacking papers out of order and stuffing them into a binder on top of my bag and onto my lap. In one minute I went from proudly productive to stuffed, unorganized and not happy. The guy caught on onto my frustration and sympathized by saying: “I’m sorry. I know. It sucks”.
Bothered by the discomfort of having bags and papers uncomfortably stacked on top of me, I felt a surge of intense frustration in my chest. Reactivity was on.
For a moment, I lifted my head and looked beyond my belongings only to find that every two-seater in front of me was filled with two people. Immediately I felt terrible.
While I was lost in productivity mode, that I failed to notice the train filling up. My current discomfort wasn’t that guy’s fault. It was my lack of noticing and preparation for the inevitable sit companion to arrive. It was my inability to adapt to a changing situation. It was my need to exert control and remain productive.
I felt so ashamed at my frustrated behavior (me?! the always-calm yoga teacher had a moment of rudeness?! Oh my). The guy was sitting right next to me so I had plenty of time to apologize. But, instead of apologizing, I said nothing at all, for over 20 minutes. The shame silenced me.
I sat there and continued to work, forcing myself to uncomfortably move through my belongings, papers and pens dropping out of place. It was a mess.
Once the train arrived at my stop, I got up to leave and my sit companion handed me a folded tiny little note and said: “This is for later”. I hesitantly grabbed the tiny note and “later” opened it to find this gentle, important reminder:
Deep gratitude for you stranger on the train, for acknowledging what occurred and not letting it go unspoken as we so often do when awkwardness arises, specially among strangers.
Deep gratitude to you for gifting me the compassion that I failed to gift myself in that moment.
Deep gratitude for reminding me that "everything falls apart" and when it does, it becomes an invitation to call upon compassion to help up gather ourselves out of shame and into worthiness.
In that moment of reactivity on the train, I failed to gift myself compassion and instead allowed shame to silence me. But, thankfully, this kind stranger caught onto it and offered me the reminder that compassion is always there, available shall I choose to tap into it.
I carry reactivity within me - a tendency to get frustrated when things shift from comfort to discomfort. The point is not to rid myself of this reactivity to prevent any chance of falling apart but rather to work with this reactivity when it arises with mindful self-compassion.
For any future moment of reactivity on the train or beyond, I have a cool new little self-compassion mantra:
"Well, Michelle, productivity got the best of you this morning, it's cool, notice your breath, calm down, and apologize with a smile. After all, it's not just you, everything put together falls apart".
Deep gratitude to you.