Sometimes the universe makes my jaw drop. Wanna hear a story? This is true—every bit of it.
I’d been raging against a new neighbor—much noisier than the others around me. I’d fume every time something dropped with a startling crash on the hardwood floor no longer softened with the rugs my old neighbor had laid down, rage against the music or television echoing through my ceiling and into the courtyard, and mutter a completely insincere “Bless you” after every exaggerated “Achoooo!” I’ve always been sensitive to sound—and identified with the 20% of the population that Dr. Elaine N. Aron reports is hyper-sensitive to it, among other things. (And yes, let me be the first to say that I consider this one of “First World problems”.)
But I didn’t want to move, and not only that, I know that moving—and avoiding the discomfort—isn’t the solution. Not only would I be setting myself up for dealing with more noise from more neighbors, I’d be avoiding the real problem: myself. Intellectually, I know that other people could live below this guy and not feel frustrated at all. I know that my response is within my power, not his, and that I’m causing my own discomfort and stress. But could I get myself to change how I was responding?
I sure tried. On a life coaching group call led by a Martha Beck Master Coach I shot my hand up to be demo-coached and exposed every limiting belief, deepest fear and long-held pattern to a group of compassionate, ruthlessly determined healers who are trained to hold me responsible. I followed up with a one on one call with my coaching buddy, telling her “I know I’m the solution to my problem, but I keep wanting this guy to be the one who changes!” She pulled out every tool in the book.
I gained a little wiggle room. I wasn’t raging against every sound now—just a lot of them. One morning, as I wrapped up my yoga practice to the tune of the bass coming through my ceiling, I dropped and flung up a prayer: “Universe, I know I need to be the one who changes here; he’s not going to. Please, please help me see myself in this guy, so that I can forgive him for causing me stress and let go of this pain and discomfort I’m causing myself. Please help.”
That day, Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday interview with Marianne Williamson popped up on my radar. In it, Marianne talks about the universal teaching that enlightenment is a process of clearing, not adding anything else, and that it’s ultimately about living from a place of love, rather than a place of fear. Oprah mentioned how she’d once shared her anguish with Marianne about someone who she felt had harmed her in some way and Marianne’s response had been “Pray for them.” Zing! Ok, if Oprah can do it, I can do it. I can offer this guy blessings and love instead of rage. I decided to talk about this idea of living from a place of love instead of fear at the beginning of my yoga class that evening, and invite everyone to dedicate their practice to someone they felt had harmed them in some way—and I’d dedicate mine to my neighbour.
Walking into the studio that evening after the class before mine, I noticed a familiar face wiping down his mat as he chatted with another student about which other teachers and classes he’d tried and liked. It was my neighbour.
And it was too uncanny to be a coincidence.
So I’m listening to the universe and making a practice of offering him sincere blessings and love instead of fear-based anger—and not just when I hear his comically exaggerated sneezes. It’s not easy. It goes against what I learned growing up and how I’ve been my whole life. It’s a new pattern. But damn, does it ever feel good.