10 Mar Ashok Gupta Saves the Day.
If you have ever lost anything of value you have probably experienced what I call “a hot feeling of regret”. I see it as a cross between shame, anger, and fear. Your mind might simultaneously scan the past to figure out where and when your valuable item could have disappeared while also scanning the future for the various consequences of the loss. In that moment only a small fraction of your awareness is focused on the present. I remember losing $100 once when I was younger, working crappy jobs, and particularly broke. All I could think about was how hard I worked to earn that money and how much I needed it. I also started to worry about what I would do about it. I could feel the loss physically in my body. I held onto the regret and anger and it took me a long time to get over it.
Spiritual thinkers often talk about the importance of letting feelings like this go. When we spend time wallowing in regret we only increase the sense of loss. While there are clearly real world consequences of losing things, loss only exists as awareness of loss. Our experience of that loss only exists as a series of observations and reactions. While some of our reactions are instinctual, many of them are learned. While I have worked a great deal over this past year on not falling into the past and future trap, I haven’t always been able to let things go as quickly, and fully, as I might like. However, with a lot of practice and attention, I’ve gotten a lot better at it.
Last night I got a note from one of our assistants explaining the we needed more of the Ashok Gupta DVDs that he had generously donated for our recent “All The Rage” kickstarter campaign, and that one of the backers was frustrated that she had not received it yet. I quickly wrote to Ashok requesting that he send us one more and I cc’ed our assistant. She responded, letting me know that it was actually three sets that had gone missing. When I got this note I got that hot feeling of regret. I tried to find a lesson in that feeling. Perhaps in my concern for the backer’s feelings I acted too quickly. I should have gotten more information. Knowing that Ashok is a generous and empathetic man I knew it was possible to ask him for a set to replace the missing one. However having to ask a second time, for more copies, was difficult for me because I felt foolish, and like I was asking for too much. This email conversation was taking place at 10 o’clock at night and Ashok is in the UK, five hours ahead of us. I asked her to let him know that it was three instead of one and I went to sleep.
When my cat woke me up at 5 AM I immediately thought about the situation and I broke my rule against checking email at night. I found that Ashok had happily agreed to send another set. He had clearly not gotten a second note explaining the situation. I thought about waiting till I got up to respond, but realizing that the package had likely not left his office yet I quickly wrote a note to let him know that we actually needed 3 sets. One part of my brain started to stir up feelings of anger and shame and regret. Another part observed this process and helped me to focus on how I might let these feelings go. I knew that anger wasn’t going to help communication and that regret was not going to make the past any different. Shame was not going to teach me any new lessons. I pulled out my phone and began to dictate this post. I have recently found that when I am trying to write I do best to start by dictating because it allows me to be the calm and centered. By talking through these ideas out loud I was able to observe the feelings with just a bit more distance.
The process of observing those feelings in action taught me a lot. While I was able to handle this situation better than I might have in the past I certainly did not escape the negative emotions entirely. Instead I felt them and observed them and worked to consciously let them go. Physically I felt them as a tightness in my chest, a shortness of breath, and a tightness in my foot. Emotionally I felt shame and frustration that the communication had gone so wrong on my end. Instead of holding onto those feelings to perhaps punish myself for acting too quickly I brought my attention to my breath and for the most part I let them go. I also tried to think of myself as a parent and as a child, connecting with how my own upbringing helped to shape my patterns of behavior. I thought about how I don’t always respond well when my daughter makes mistakes and wondered; will my expression of anger lead to more automatic responses on her part in the future? What can I do to change the patterns now so that she might be more present in the future? Again, if we can learn to frame situations that might cause regret as gifts that teach us lessons, we can change how we react to them.
In this situation it helped to know that Ashok is not only kind, but also empathetic, so while I was anxious to resolve the situation I also knew that the reply would not be difficult to handle. After dictating my notes I checked my main and found that he had agreed to send more sets, and graciously accepted our offer to offset some of the cost of replacement. I wrote him a thank you note paraphrasing some of what I had dictated, and to let him know how much I had learned from him. Here is his reply.
“These things happen, it’s absolutely fine! Yes, observing our dear beloved minds with compassion, helps us easily let go of these types of emotions!” If you watch the video above you can probably hear him say it.