Trash day in my neighborhood. I loathe trash day. As I walked two blocks with my son to school this morning, we passed a sofa, a dresser, an end table and a tv (all at different houses), all tossed onto the curb for the trash. After I dropped my son at school I continued to walk. Within 1/2 mile I passed two more sofas, another dresser and tv, a table, a chair and an antique bedroom set. Apparently my neighbors haven't heard of Goodwill or the VVA (who by the way, pick up at the front door.) I was disgusted because landfill space was being filled with perfectly usable furniture, and because there was probably a poor child in the neighborhood that could use the furniture instead.
My morning walk is normally a source of peace and clarity and a connection to nature, but I wasn't feeling any of that as I passed each trash pile. Frustrated that I was becoming more upset with each step, I made a conscious effort to change what I was feeling at that moment.
I have been reading Pema Chodron's book, "Taking the Leap." In the book she discusses the Tibetan word shenpa, which means attachment, or our ability to get "hooked" or stuck.
"The fundamental, most basic shenpa is to ego itself: attachment to our identity, the image of who we think we are. When we experience our identity as being threatened, our self-absorption gets very strong, and shenpa automatically arises."
I began to examine my feelings about trash day and why it continues to hook me. It's not the furniture itself, or the people putting it at the curb, but a judgment in my mind that it is wrong to throw away something useful. On a normal day I would keep walking and continue to get more angry about the entire situation, feeding a story line that would lead into everything else that is "wrong" in the world. Pema has taught me that instead of escalating my thought pattern, or worse yet wishing my uncomfortable feelings would just go away, it is much more beneficial to lean into them. Take a few deep breaths, poke around the feeling a little bit, and then let it go. Following this advice has helped me learn to let go of things much more quickly, and each time I practice it is easier to get "unhooked."
Pema also mentions that the average life span of a particular emotion is a minute and a half.
"After that, we have to revive the emotion to get it going again. Our usual process is that we automatically do revive it by feeding it with an internal conversation about how another person is the source of our discomfort. Maybe we strike out at them or at someone else - all because we don't want to go near the unpleasantness of what we're feeling."
I must admit I never expected curbside trash to be the catalyst for a personal growth experience. This morning made me realize that I don't have to search out a teacher to further my evolution - the lessons are all around me every minute of every day. I just have to be open enough to recognize the opportunity.