Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Mother Doesn't Wear Underwear... and Other Opportunities to Practice Patience

The last time that I flipped past one of the Christian channels, Joel Osteen was telling some long and convoluted story of practicing patience when he and Victoria when to the mall and couldn't find a parking space.  Even the Drolma center once gave a dharma lesson about using driving as an opportunity to practice patience.  All of this is fine, and lightweight, feel-good fluff, but it's not realistic.  These phenomena are distant and avoidable.  Even when traffic and parking bother us, these are temporary forms of suffering, and we rarely think of these incidents later.

A much better opportunity to practice patience is with your family, friends, enemies and coworkers.  These are the people that you spend the most time with, who are most likely to annoy the hell out of you.  And they are not likely to strike when you are looking for parking at the mall.  They will hit you where it hurts and annoys most: at home.  They will seemingly torture you in private and sometimes in public too, providing a much more difficult scenario in which to practice patience and compassion.

My mother had a stroke many years ago.  Since that time, she has not been able to drive or live on her own.  She is sometimes forgetful, doesn't have a great attention span, and in many ways she's very childlike now.  The good news is that most people outside of our family don't notice that she has any problems at all.  She looks and sounds relatively normal.  My father took care of her for many years, but eventually he couldn't stand care taking anymore and sent her to a nursing home.  I invited my mother to move in with me.  She moved in with me a year ago, and it hasn't been easy adjusting to our new lives together and our new roles.

My mother is 62 years old and obstinate.  She doesn't like hearing what's best from someone in her 30s.  Recently, when I was sleeping on an air mattress after our house was treated for bedbugs, my mother stood over me early in the morning, wearing an extremely short nightgown  no underwear.  That was not a good way to wake up.  I wasn't really annoyed or repulsed by this until I realized that she slides her naked butt across my couch, too-short nightgown and all, about three times, every time she sits or stands.

So I laid down the law.  At first I asked her nicely to wear underwear if she is going to sit on the couch and continue wearing the mini-nightgown.  This lead to a 10 minute question and answer session about why.  Why do people wear underwear???  She spoke as if it's not normal to wear underwear and then informed me that she wasn't going to wear underwear.  I informed her that she wasn't going to slide naked across my couch 12+ times a day.  She protested, held a grudge, tried to keep sitting on the couch with no underwear, and finally gave up.  Now she wears underwear about 80% of the time without being reminded.

This would be quite comical if it weren't happening to me.  I sometimes even joke that I should have called the Fox network when she moved in with me because our lives would make great reality TV.  I say Fox because I think they are the only network that would host such a dumb show.  Like most reality TV shows, these details are only humorous or interesting or boring because you aren't living this life.  For me, these details are infuriating.  After all, why should I have to tell a 62-year old to wear underwear?  Isn't putting on clean underwear each day, or for that matter, any underwear, the first thing you learn once you're out of diapers?

So why am I airing my family's dirty laundry (or lack thereof)?  Because there is a valuable lesson to be learned.  If you can practice patience and compassion with the ones you love, then you can practice patience and compassion anywhere.  My example is not the mild annoyance of walking farther at the mall.  My example is in-your-face defiance.  It is disregard for the feelings of others.  It is illogical and unavoidable.  I have had to learn to stop responding with the gut reaction of anger and instead look deeper.  My mother suffered brain damage with her stroke.  She doesn't do these things to annoy me, she just doesn't know any better now.  Plus, she's having a tough time adapting to our new roles where I am the caretaker and rule maker.

Tips for Practicing Patience and Compassion with Others:

  • Take a deep breath and wait before you react.
  • If you need to, walk away and discuss the problem later, when you are calm.
  • Be mindful of the deeper meaning and/or reasons that the problem is arising.  According to Buddhist beliefs, samsara, or the continuous cycle of suffering, happens because we suffer from delusions.  Often the issue is our way of thinking about or approaching a problem, rather than the problem itself.
  • Be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself.  Not every problem can be resolved.  You can't always change someone else's way of thinking.  If you were out of line, resolve to do better next time and then let it go.  If you are at an impasse with another person, send positive thoughts and think compassionately from a distance.
  • Imagine yourself in that person's shoes.  How would you want to be treated?  Do your best to carry that out.
  • Meditate on compassion.

Things aren't perfect here, but we are working on it.  We do our best to be polite and practice the golden rule, although sometimes we fail.  What are your best tips for practicing patience and compassion with others?  And if anyone has Fox on speed dial, please call them.  Lol.  This has become a regular joke at my house.

Posted as part of Type A and Show and Share Day, even though there is more sharing than showing (thank goodness).


Timoteo said...

Well written piece...though I don't think I've ever complained about a woman not wearing underwear!

Best to you from a longtime vegetarian/Buddhist type guy.

Ani said...

@Timoteo- Do you think I should take my mother to the nude beach so that she can get her fill of not wearing underwear? Lol. She'd probably die. It could be fun though.