Some things were said to me recently by one of our residents (in quite an advanced state of inebriation) which made me quite angry. I will do anything to avoid confrontation, so at the time I said nothing, and even managed to be mindful of my breathing to keep myself grounded. Afterwards I was furious - all the things I wished I'd said rattled around in my head like poisonous snakes. Even though I was angry - and the more I thought about it, the more angry I got - I realised that this was a powerful opportunity for learning. I tried feeling gratitude to the person for this opportunity, but that didn't work. I tried sitting with my anger, accepting it, but that didn't work either. By "work", I mean make it go away. I was uncomfortable. I'm generally a happy person, and this anger was causing me to suffer.
I opened my Eckhart Tolle book, Stillness Speaks, at random, and here's what he said: if you can't accept your anger as it is, then accept that you can't accept it. This at least calmed me down. I went for a long walk and the anger subsided, but it was still there, waiting to be rekindled. When I got home there was a message in my inbox from the person in question, apologising and asking for forgiveness, and the anger immediately dissolved.
There is so much learning in this.
First, I learned that I can't deal with anger. I can't deal with other people's anger, and I can't deal with my own. I just don't know what to do with it.
Second, what was it that made the anger go away? It wasn't just the apology - because although it takes courage to apologise, it's not so hard to apologise for things you said when you were so drunk that you don't even remember saying them. What dissolved the anger was that the other person made herself vulnerable by asking me to forgive her. I know about empathy. I know that if I'd lived her life then I would behave just the way she does. I spent most of my long walk reminding myself of these things, trying hard to feel compassionate and feeling a bit miserable about failing. All it took was an admission of vulnerability, and all my anger crumbled. Why? Because I know that I'm vulnerable too. That's where the anger came from in the first place.
Third is the more difficult lesson to learn. I became angry because what she said to me made me feel vulnerable. It doesn't matter if I tell myself "she was drunk, she didn't know what she was saying". When people are drunk they say what they really think. She made me question my self. Am I a good person? Am I worthy? Am I worthy of love? Some people have an uncanny knack of seeing your weakest point and honing straight in on it. I usually avoid these people. I avoid the people who wear a spiky armour to keep others at a distance, whose energy prickles and crackles and threatens to sting if you get too close. I'm drawn to people who don't mind admitting their vulnerability, who wear their hearts on their sleves - who show courage (from the latin route coer, meaning heart; telling the story of who you are with your full heart). I'm drawn to these people because I want to be like them; I want to be courageous, and when I'm with them I can be. When they show me their vulnerability, I feel able to show mine, and so we connect.
If I want to grow, and become the best possible version of myself (which I do), then my homework now is to be that courageous person. To meet pricklyness with vulnerability. To accept that I'm afraid of being stung, but to go ahead and try to connect anyway. This is really scary.