Wednesday, August 19, 2020

One Less Stress

Our grocery stores open an hour early for seniors (like me). I enjoy the quieter pace and the fewer people around. People are wearing masks now for the most part and learning how to safe distance.

But there is still a heightened sense of tension in the air. 

My cart today had a flat. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, Ka-blump. A substantial Ka-blump, one that made all the metal in the cart rattle at the same time. I looked back at the entrance, but I knew there was no turning back. To keep things flowing safely for us all, they made the store one-way. I sighed and continued on. 

"This is the fancy tile floor," I thought. "Maybe when I get onto the smooth floor the cart will smooth out too." Nope. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, down the produce aisle. And then the next aisle. 

I stopped by the shampoo to see which wheel was the culprit. Maybe a wheel picked up something I could remove. Nope. It had an actual flat - a flat, even concave, spot on one wheel. I sighed and carried on. Ka-blump, Ka-blump. 

You'd think someone like me who's been practicing mindfulness for well, ever, would have stopped early on, taken a refreshing-cleansing breath and then glided blissfully through the rest of the store.

Yeah, no. That's not the way it went.

It took a few aisles more before it dawned on me that I was letting this little thing demand too much of my attention. And, as soon as I recognized it and called it out, it stopped being a problem.

Tensions are already high. Many of us are triggered, and jumpy. We forget how much these changes are sapping our resources. We have to learn new rules for shopping, for getting around, for everything. We are trying to figure out what people are saying and feeling behind their masks. We have no idea how this will play out. This depletes us. 

And then there's the little things on top of that. Like flickering fluorescent lights. They drive me mad. Or the barking dog next door. Or the jackhammers across the street. We often don't know how much stress they add until they stop. My sister texted me, "I think the break in jackhammers is lunch." I could almost feel her relief. 

I may have no power over the pandemic, the fluorescent lights, or the barking dog, but I have some power over my reactions to these things. 

First I have to notice what's sapping the energy. Sometimes, that can be enough itself. It's as though my subconscious has been alerting me to the fluorescent flicker. As soon as I acknowledge the alert, my subconscious can relax as its job is done. Oh right, flickering lights. That's not a problem. Not all are alerts though; some are irritations like the faulty shopping cart. Once I notice, I can make a choice: Do I want to continue to be irritated by it, or not. If not, stop giving it my attention.

The trick is to notice. 

It may have taken me a while, but by the time I reached the checkouts, I barely even heard the Ka-blump any more. Yet to be honest, I was relieved to leave the cart behind after the car was loaded. Like the jackhammers stopping for lunch it was one less stress.