There’s a true story, I’m told, of a general in the U.S. army who’s ordered to take an anger management course. Until doing so, his service is suspended.
At the end of the day (and a long program) – a challenge for anyone, let alone a commanding officer in a macho profession – he goes to the grocery store to refill on supplies.
Ready to check out, he steps behind a woman with just a few items, a sight that triggers him instantly. (There’s an empty express line one register over). The woman is holding a baby and even lets the cashier hold her too. Together, they gush over the little girl: curls, ribbons and eyes that match her dads. The general, meanwhile, receives no acknowledgment, not even a nod, as the line stalls.
Everything inside the general insists he reacts. What a rude woman! I have somewhere to go. How clueless can (both of) you be?! Yadi yada the small self yanks. Instead, he remembers mindfulness and flips his knee-jerk mentality with a simple but profound act… he pauses.
The scenario has triggered a sense of anger in the general. But why? Anger certainly isn’t the root. Is it anxiety… for fear of being late? Maybe. Is it egotism… to satisfy our incessant need to be right and in control? Who knows. Regardless, below the reactive jibber-jabber (and within his pause) he finds some space, a bit of a God gap, and an openness to the moment.
After a few more minutes in line, the woman and little girl leave.
“That girl was adorable,” the general decides to say.
The cashier lights up.
“Thank you!” she responds. “Actually that’s my little girl. My husband was killed in Afghanistan last year and my mom brings her by twice a day so we can have some time together. It’s not much, but it gets me through the day.”
If we fail to deepen our awareness, react and not respond, we’ll never know our fullest Being. Tiny judgments are acts of a separate self. Separation is the culprit to all front page news. With or without our dissection of the scene, the world will keep on spinning. You never know what’s on the other side of the counter.
Take a breath.
Respond with Presence.
Policies and presidents won’t change the world. Mindfulness will. It starts at the grocery store.