There’s a short practice I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple, and yet so impactful when interacting with difficult people. It brings a sense of balance, and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high.
One day while I was driving, I was cut off by some sports car, who seemed to be speeding, and weaving in and out of traffic. My teeth locked together, my shoulders tensed, and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO.
In that moment I realized how tense I was, and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars too.
That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important.
My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind.
So I said…
- “May I be at ease…” (Me)
- “May you be at ease…” (The out of control sports car driver)
- “May we all be at ease…” (All the drivers on the road)
Doing this simple three part practice took less than 30 seconds, and rapidly transformed my experience from disconnection and rage into connection and balance.
To me, happiness means that I have a rock solid internal sense that no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be okay.
This practice gives me that feeling. It makes me move beyond seeing the other driver as just another jerk on the road (in other words, an object) and instead as a person. It gives me the experience that I’m actually okay.
You don’t have to be on the road to test drive this. I strongly suggest giving this a shot when dealing with difficult people and seeing what you notice.
Warning: It just might create a whole lot of peace in yourself.
And you know what Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.“
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy