I was once at a swimming pool watching my kids swim. I had a headache, I was in a bad mood and tired after a day in the office, there were noisy kids and chatting parents everywhere, and there was a very strong smell of chlorine. I felt extremely annoyed with the fact that I felt miserable. Then I saw That Woman.
I have to say that back then most people in my world seemed to fall into three main categories: Plain Stupid, Annoyingly Toxic and Secretly Perverse. Those who didn't immediately fall into one of those categories, might have just been very good at pretending, like I was.
That Woman was approaching me and trying to make eye contact. I knew that she - a complete stranger - had randomly selected me from the crowd for a chat. My mind quickly put a label on her: Plain Stupid plus Annoyingly Toxic. As always, my mind was right. Of course, if I wasn't tired and with a headache, I'd have faked it like always. I'd have pretended to be a nice sociable person enjoying a small chat. But not that evening. I thought 'Oh my God. I won't be able to tolerate this'.
That Woman sat next to me and started talking. She wasn't from a privileged background, she seemed uneducated and simple-minded, her thoughts jumped from one place to another, she struggled with putting sentences together as she was rushing to tell me about her life. And she didn't stop to listen.
I panicked. I could feel irritation arising in my stomach. That the irritation would grow into cold anger and rise up to my chest. I knew it'd be a physical feeling. If I acted on it, I'd come across as rude, inconsiderate and arrogant. If I suppressed it, I'd feel resentful and annoyed for days, and most likely would take it out on my partner.
Then I remembered that I was on my Great Self-Discovery Journey. And on that journey I was supposed to learn to shape my mindset and emotions, not follow them blindly. I only remembered because I panicked. So, I put aside my loud thoughts about how Plain Stupid and Annoyingly Toxic That Woman was. Not that the thoughts stopped; they were going round in circles like a broken record. But I put my mind aside, I disregarded my arising irritation and allowed myself to just be there without any feelings, like in meditation.
I watched That Woman talking. I was watching her face, feeling her mood and looking into her eyes. I was mostly listening to her voice and not to what she had to say, because I couldn't relate to her experience anyway. I left it to my mind to make sure that I smiled and said 'yes' or 'no' at the right times in the conversation.
Slowly, my own annoying thoughts and the Woman's voice became quieter and merged with the background noise. I just sat there feeling her presence. I felt the presence of an inquisitive joyful child-like human being, who was trying hard to do the right things in life. She was learning to discern good from bad and to make the right choices. She was open-minded - like a child - with other people. She was happy with her not-so-easy life as it was.
The Woman's voice now sounded to me like the murmur of a stream - calming and soothing. What she said didn't matter, but her energy mattered. I felt her presence as something very lightweight and positive. I felt relaxed. My headache was completely gone, I felt refreshed and balanced. That night I went home relaxed, calm and pleased with my interaction with That Woman.
3 Lessons That Woman Taught Me
She probably spent 20 minutes with me and then stood up and moved to the next stranger to tell them about her life. And I sat there thinking about the lessons I've learnt from my interaction.
1. Let them just be. Sometimes we'll never be able to understand and relate to another person, their motivation, values, behaviour. And that's Ok, we don't need to feel threatened by that. We can just let the other person be who they are. We can be who we are.
2. Have unbiased heart. We can only truly connect with people through our balanced unbiased hearts, especially with people who are vastly different from ourselves. I say 'balanced' hearts, because we can only connect with others when we don't feel any negative emotions (triggered by our negative mindsets).
3. Don't judge and label. Our interaction with another person will always be more harmonious and satisfactory if we approach the person with a calm neutral attitude, without judging. Even if the person is difficult to deal with, our interaction will still be more satisfactory if we're unbiased and open-minded.
These are probably very obvious 'truths' well known to everyone. And of course I myself had read about them many times in the past. Yet, my interaction with That Woman was my first time when I saw those rules working in practice. The result amazed me and made me reconsider how I related to people - in a big way. That was the beginning of me learning to shape my relationships with people, not by changing others, but by reshaping my own attitudes and reactions.