I often teach that one of yoga’s most life-changing gifts is the ability to choose to act rather than react in any and all of life’s situations. While this statement is typically met with a lot of vigorous nodding, I usually follow it up with an anecdote as I believe that real life examples make for powerful teaching tools, especially with philosophy. Over the holiday weekend, “real life” provided me with yet another example of this concept for my arsenal.
We landed in San Diego Thursday evening a little earlier than expected. While we were tired from a full day of work and the long cross-country flight, we were also very excited to see our dear friends for the first time in almost a year. Despite an interminable wait for our baggage, they said “Check in at the hotel and come on over!” We happily agreed.
Traffic was light and the drive to the hotel was easy. I think I actually said, “Man! This trip is going like clockwork!” (We all know that pronouncements like that are never a good idea.) As we got out of the car in the hotel parking lot, we heard a loud hissing sound like a balloon makes when you let out the air. My husband spun around and then let out a string of expletives. The front tire of our rental car was already completely flat.
This moment could have gone one of two ways:
1. We could get on the phone with the car rental folks and sort out the flat tire.
2. We could walk down the block to our friends’ house to have a beer and a much-needed and a long-awaited laugh.
In moments like this it often feels like time slows down. In our particular moment, exhaustion, adrenaline and the anticipation of some long-awaited fun collided in both of us. My husband immediately swung into irritable action, choosing option A. He scrambled around for the rental agreement, slammed the door of the car and was already storming toward the hotel to call Alamo before I could speak.
I called out, “Wait!” and he stopped and barked at me, “What?”
I took a deep breath, said a little prayer to have my happy, on-vacation husband back, and plunged ahead proposing option B. “We don’t actually have to deal with the tire just this minute.” And it was true. We weren’t in the middle of the highway as we easily could have been. The car was safely parked at our hotel. We were also within walking distance of our friends’ house and didn’t need the car until morning. Upon reflection, if you’re going to get a flat tire, this was about as good as it gets.
He paused. (It was a long pause.) Then he said, “You’re right.” (Sigh of relief.) We headed across the street for that beer and a laugh.
The choice between reacting and acting is not always crystal clear. In this instance, my husband reacted while I acted. (For the record, I am not at all implying that these are the roles into which we always or even regularly fall.) In many ways, his reaction was the mature and responsible one. We had a damaged rental car that needed fixing. We had plans the next morning that required the car. We had nothing pressing to do right at the moment and both tend to live by the maxim “No better time than the present” when approaching odious tasks.
My choice could be seen as irresponsible and immature. After all, I was choosing to ignore a real problem because there was fun to be had. While this would not always be the best choice, in our case, for many reasons, it was. First, our day had already been a long one and we were wiped out. Second, because they had a lot to do to prepare for their son’s bar mitzvah and had visiting family to entertain, that evening was truly the only time that we would be able to be alone with our friends over the weekend. Third, we really did have total flexibility with no schedule that we needed to adhere to at all the next day.
In short, a brief pause for reflection revealed that, in that moment, not only could we afford to put off the “yucky” to embrace the “yay,” but it was actually smarter to do so.
Our mindful choice to act rather than react salvaged more than just our night. We went to bed after a great visit with our friends, happy to be away for a long weekend. We woke up refreshed and ready not only to tackle our flat tire but to enjoy a day of sightseeing in a city that was new to us. While I don’t believe our choice the night before had anything to do with the sunny day that presented itself despite a dreary forecast, I do believe the bright smiles on our faces and in our tones helped influenced the rental care folks to be delightful and helpful. It was a breeze to swap our car for another and we were wandering through the zoo shortly after it opened.
No matter what’s happening in your life, give yourself the gift of a pause. It doesn’t have to be a long one. Just enough time to take a deep breath. That’s really, truly enough time to act mindfully rather than automatically reacting. While it always pays off to be mindful, as our example proves, sometimes the mindful choice also pays extra dividends by being more fun!