Thursday, October 28, 2021

Biting My Tongue

For much of my adult life, I was a reactive angry sort without realizing I was. I got frustrated and impatient at times, but I wasn't the kind of person who lost her temper or started yelling. 

A death in the family a few years ago unearthed the rage. Boy oh boy. 

Once I started to see how reactive I was, I wanted to do something about it. With perfect timing, an article crossed my desk by Pema Chodron: "The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience

Patience? I read the article, and yes, patience. I'd never equated anger and impatience before but it made sense. My loved ones could sense my anger even when it I was fighting it internally. They told me, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." I wanted to change that.

So I practised biting my tongue. Literally. Have you any idea HOW HARD it was to bite my tongue? I don't mean physically. But to stop and do this? I was so reactive. Harder yet because I had to accept the fact that I wasn't as nice a person as I'd thought. But it's a powerful practice. Biting my tongue forces me to stop and wait. It demands patience.

I took a playful approach. I mean can you picture it? How absurd! Some part of my brain snorts in laughter at the picture of my tongue trapped between my teeth. Every. Single. Time. 

And it's been kind of fun to watch my progress. By starting with the easier ones - the normal annoyances and disappointments of everyday life - I built enough competence to go for a few of the big ticket ones. I knew which ones would push my buttons, so I prepped. If I didn't think I'd be able to bite my tongue that day, I'd avoid direct contact. Sometimes I let the patience practice be a listening-without-talking day. That's good practice. And when I would inevitably mess up, I could be more patient with myself. I'm only human. It's a process. 

You'd think biting my tongue would make me feel constrained. It doesn't. Instead, it feels oddly freeing.


You know how it is when you get the 'flu and have no choice but to slow down and go to bed for a few days to recover? To me the pandemic feels like a supersized version of the same thing. It feels like life is asking all of us - the whole world - to slow down. No, life is telling us to slow down. 

For some of us this is not too hard. To me it feels like the world slowed down to Janet-speed. When my calendar suddenly became empty, I felt a little relief. I'd been scaling back some activities anyhow. 

For some it is hard. My neighbour with Long COVID has been eager to get back to work. He thought he'd feel better by now; it's already been 8 months. Now he has to rethink how to live in the slow lane for however much longer it takes to heal. Another friend is a social butterfly. This hit her hard. 

For some it is very hard. Many of us are now doing two jobs instead of one (think parents who have to home-school the kids while still working), and have had to reset personal boundaries, rethink what is necessary, perhaps lower some standards, and let an awful lot go. 

There's a lot of grief in letting go. There's already a lot of grief in the air. Grief is tough. The symptoms of grief itself can force us to slow down: anger, forgetfulness, exhaustion, sadness. 

If life is forcing us to slow down, maybe we do better when we assume it's for the best. We could act as though this is a natural respite, like a three day 'flu - only longer. Rather than scrambling to get back into how our lives used to be, time spent here can give us a better sense of who we are now and what we really need. What feeds our spirit? This is the perfect time to ask ourselves "What activities or places recharge my energy?" or "What brings me joy?" or "Do I really need a new coat or is it just the hunt that I miss about shopping? 

For most of us, it has been a time to rethink our habits, our work, our friendships. Some of us have left soul-sucking jobs. Others have changed the way they work. A friend had a five hour commute every day. When her bosses found she could do just as well from home, they told her she could keep it up. Zooming into the office blurred the lines between home and work. There has been nothing more human than seeing someone's doggo or toddler stepping into a zoom meeting and lifting the atmosphere. What really is more important, our productivity or our humanity?  I hope we can hang onto some of that stuff. 

Maybe when life tells us to slow down, it's because there's something it wants us to see. Maybe something we need to see.