We moved here about two years ago.  Many of our neighbors are second or third generation here, others are more recent, but we are definitely the new kids on the block.  You remember what it is like to be the new kid.  When I am going into new situations I often begin with fantasies of hopeful promise that this will be a new haven….I paint pictures in my mind of a place where I’ll feel like I belong, they’ll feel like they (and I)  belong, we will all get along…Then I start to meet people….

So there we were on our new property, which has the outstanding characteristic of a creek running through it. Something else that is unusual about our new place is that there is a road both in front and in back of us.  The house came with a fence in front but not in back where the creek and the second road are. The house has a wall of windows that exposes most of the house to the street.  As we err on the modest, private side, we put a fence up.  But not for long.  The neighbors, these people who were supposed to be my new best friends, were, it turns out very entitled, nincompoops. They protested our fence!  They said it blocked “their” view of the creek (and of our back yard, living room, dining room and kitchen might I add).  The city even came out to inspect and after seeing how exposed our house was to the street Okayed the fence.  But the neighbors, who were obviously not my new best friends, kept pestering and complaining. We were forced to take our fence down.  Now everyone who walks and drives by can see what I am eating for breakfast, oh joy!

I was so mad I could spit.

And I stayed mad for a long time! I dreamt mad things about my neighbors. I told everyone I know how mad I was about it.  I could not stop thinking about it!  I felt exposed and vulnerable.  I felt like my family and I had no privacy and that everyone in our neighborhood might be looking into our yard and house all the time.

Right around Halloween time, as this whole conflict (and my anger) was at its climax, I had visions of hanging a Halloween witch in the tree, by the neck, with a sign that said, “It was the fence that led me to this.”  I know that is just crazy, but that is how the feeling of vulnerability and lack of power was affecting me. Who wins, the bad witch or the good?

And then…. I remembered a mindfulness teaching I had learned from Thich Nhat Hahn several years ago.  He said, “notice the absence of a tooth ache and enjoy not having one.” I began to realize there were many periods of the day when no one was walking by my exposed yard, living room, dining room, and kitchen.  Sure, there were the morning and evening dog walkers and commuters, and yes, some people did walk and drive the road at various other points in the day, actually, the road was often empty. Much of the day I was exposed to nothing but the plants and asphalt.  In fact, I started to notice that while someone could practically see what I was having for breakfast, they were not.  So in TNH’s words I was noticing the “absence of the tooth ache.”  Unfortunately this led me to anger again; why did those people spend all that effort protesting our fence, when no one is ever out there looking at the creek they insisted they had to have a view of.  Then I remembered the second part of the teaching, “and enjoy not having a tooth ache”. So I did. I began to enjoy all the moments I was “alone” in my yard or kitchen.

Now I find that in fact, most of the day I “have no tooth ache” or neighbors passing by, and the enjoyment of each moment is there for the taking.

I really mean it when I said I was so mad I could just spit! And I know it sounds too good to be true, but what I just described is what happened.  Mindfulness is like that, it reprograms your brain. It doesn’t fix your brain – your crazy will still be there (just like mine was and is) – but the bounce back time gets shorter and more effective, meaning you leave your crazy sooner and further behind you…And right now I’m at my dining room table typing and no one is outside my window.

Take it home:

  • What is something that “gives you a tooth ache”? Think of something that leaves you feeling disappointed, vulnerable, angry.  Now pause, take a few breaths into that memory and those feelings. We are not trying to bypass the feelings. They are important and need your kind attention before you go on any further. However they do shift and change and sometimes we forget to experience their decrease or their absence.
  • Notice not “having a tooth ache”. Notice the moments when the disappointment, vulnerability, anger is NOT there. Or if they are still there it can be helpful to notice when they decrease, even just slightly. This would be noticing the lessening of the tooth ache.
  • Enjoy the “absence of the tooth ache”.  Next time you catch a moment of ease, when the disappointment, vulnerability or anger has lifted. Whether temporarily away or gone for good, sit back for a moment, breathe and enjoy…

Rebekkah LaDyne is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she teaches Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga.

She teaches group class, individual sessions and retreats. She has published 2 Instructional Yoga and Mindfulness CDs for home practice available on iTunes and on Amazon.

Learn more about her at www.enjoymindfulyoga.com