On Thursday I arrived at Madrid airport to find that
my suitcase had not made the 24 hour journey with me.
The Etihad baggage claim folks weren’t exactly sure where my bag was, along with 8 others, but they assured me it would be delivered to where I was staying, 3 hours away, in southern Spain within a day or so, as soon as they found it.
I was a little concerned about facing the 33 degree heat with my only clothes being my 24-hour-old jeans, socks and shoes,
but instead of getting in an angry tiz with Neville about it, as I would have pre mind-taming skills, I decided not to waste my energy on frustration, and jumped on a train to the south of Spain, footloose and fancy free. By which I mean, flip-flop-less and clothes-free.
A couple of days later I got a phone call telling me I’d need to stay at home for the whole day 8am-6pm on Saturday for the bag to be delivered, which my friends and I begrudgingly did. But after a whole sunny day stuck at home waiting, still the bag wasn’t delivered. It was then that we discovered that we had no way of contacting Etihad Madrid because their phone wouldn’t connect and they responded to no emails.
6 days passed, still with no bag and no ability to get hold of anyone who could help,
(including a call on Monday to say it would be delivered by 8pm Monday, which again, it wasn’t) and my calm acceptance from the beginning of the trip began to wane. And by wane I mean that I called Bloody Good Chap back home in Australia in floods of tears,
convinced that some Spanish delivery man was dancing down the streets of Madrid with one of my favourite dresses on his head, flinging my worldly clothing treasures at passers by and giving me the metaphorical finger while I waited, clothes-less and shoeless in southern Spain.
By this time I’d spent hours on the phone with various rude Etihad and airport staff, all of whom insisted I just needed to keep calling the same number that had not answered their phone any of the 40 times I’d called over the last 6 days.
Neville was riling to punch someone.
I know without a shadow of a doubt, without any mind-taming skills, Neville could have turned those 6 days into a nightmare of stress, tears and anger, which would have had no effect on the arrival of my bag, and a significant effect on the ruination of my holiday.
There are many, many times in life when shit goes wrong, both trivial, (like my suitcase) and major (like death of loved ones), during which we have absolutely no control.
Losing control of a situation is the minds’ worst nightmare, and it can fling us into a dangerous spiral of thoughts and emotions that can cloud our vision and make it near impossible to focus on the good.
At an airport you’ll always see people pacing up and down, steam pouring out of their ears and conversing tersely with ground staff when a flight is delayed –
when things don’t go as we expect them to and we’re left with no control, we tend to go a bit bonkers.
This is where the art of acceptance can make a world of difference. When faced with a tricky situation, I always try to follow my mate Ecky’s advice:
“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather.
To complain is always nonacceptance of what is.
Change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible;
leave the situation, or accept it. All else is madness.”
During those 6 incredibly frustrating days, every time I noticed the stress, frustration, anger or worry start to bubble up into a whirlwind of catastrophising or shouty thoughts, I’d bring my attention back into my body, locate the physiological sensations, and hold my attention there, noticing what was arising without trying to get rid of it.
When most people think of acceptance, they try to accept things with their minds by repeating “I accept this, this is ok, I’m not bothered”, etc. This is usually met by the mind coming up with an opposing response “I hate this, this is NOT ok, F this! Grrrrrrr!” – which causes our mind to get into a war with itself, good cop, bad cop.
Acceptance is not really something we can do – it’s more of an undoing.
When we resist something (like mentally resisting the fact that my suitcase was MIA), we tense up, we grip on to the mental idea of how we think things SHOULD be, instead of getting on with things exactly as they are.
I’ve been talking about this a lot with my 1:1 clients lately – when they find themselves in a situation that they cannot control, like trying to get pregnant, or being broken up with, or having an injury or illness they can’t get rid of, I coach them through the process of accepting the seemingly unacceptable so that they can stop wasting all their mental energy tensing up and getting pissed off or stressed about something that they cannot change by force of will.
In this process, we always find that their reaction to the uncontrollable situation is to tense up, mentally (with stubbornness, frustration, and looping “should” thoughts), and/or physically, (with tense shoulders, jaw, back, neck, hands, toes, etc.)
When you’re sitting at your desk and you notice you’ve been hunching up your shoulders for the past hour or so, as soon as you become aware you’re doing it, your shoulders relax down a bit almost of their own accord.
The body is always trying to get back to equilibrium, it doesn’t want to waste energy tensing muscles unnecessarily, but it requires your attention to do so.
In the same way, when we notice we’re tensing up about something we can’t control, all that’s required to accept the situation is our awareness of the tension.
As soon as we put our full attention on something (including our emotional reaction to it), with an attitude of openness and curiosity, we soften the tension, we start to let go of resistance, and that’s how we start to accept the unacceptable.
Acceptance = full attention on what is happening right now.
On Tuesday afternoon, right about the time I was coming to terms with the fact that my suitcase was lost for good, a man arrived in the street dragging my bag all taped up. I asked him in broken Spanish, “why not Friday or Saturday or Sunday or Monday, and why not call to let me know it wouldn’t be delivered so we’d stop waiting around all day?”
The guy just shrugged and said, “Holiday.”