Early Monday morning I gazed at the garage and knew it was time to clean out the recycling that had piled up over the past few weeks. There is only so much clutter I can stand before it starts to drive me crazy. And, since we don’t have pick-up by the city anymore, you need to take all the paper, plastic, and glass to the recycling bins.
However, when you go to the bins, they may be gone or so full you can’t get anything in them. That is what happened to me the last time I went. Thankfully, there was a kind woman there who had been in this predicament before and told me where another recycling center was nearby. She suggested that I follow her, and we both successfully unloaded at this second location.
On Monday, I was in luck. There were plenty of bins and plenty of room. I stopped my car and started to unload. About this time, a man pulled up in his white Honda and started to unload his car. I smiled at him as we crossed paths, as I always like to see if I can encourage other people to connect and smile. Although I might be in the minority, it seems such a strange way to live, not acknowledging the people within inches of you.
He didn’t smile back.
Two Ways of Looking at Things
The second time we crossed paths walking back and forth to our cars, he mumbled “What a hassle” under his breath. I’m assuming that he meant the act of driving your recyclables downtown, not the effort on my part to get him to smile, although on reflection, that might have been true as well.
I was really struck by his comment. I didn’t respond. I also didn’t keep smiling at him. The energy he sent my way with that comment was quite palpable and, frankly sad. I continued to think about it while I finished my unloading and drove away.
His way of looking at this task was “What a hassle” and it seemed to be causing him some grief. My way of looking at it was more like “This is great.” I was feeling quite happy about the fact that I was able to unload my car and hope that the recycling process would occur. I was happy about my clean garage now that the recycling was gone. I was feeling accomplished for completing the task and it wasn’t even noon on Monday.
In addition, I thought about the unconscious privilege we live in that would give rise to such a comment on something as simple as recycling. The list is endless but here is just a start. We have cars to drive our recycling to the center. Money to buy gas so the car will run. Money to keep the car repaired when it needs it. All that recycling represents the food, drink, and household items that you have been able to buy that makes your life easier. Much of it, I would guess, would not fall into the category of essential.
Acknowledging Our Privilege
How much of the time are you impatient, irritated, and unkind because life is not handing you a seamlessly easy life? Do you get mad about taking the recycling to a center? Do you get irritated when the plane gets delayed because of the weather or any other reason, for that matter? Do you get impatient when you are put on hold for ten minutes on a service call? Do you get angry with the representative on the phone because your internet went out during your Netflix movie? Do you honk your horn if a person doesn’t jump on the gas when the light turns green? Do you get irritated if the waiter or cook doesn’t get everything just right on your order? And so on.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but I think it’s important to remember every day what a privilege it is to even wake up in the morning. Not only that. You probably wake up every morning in a home or apartment that has hot running water for a shower and food in the refrigerator. You have plenty of clothes to wear. Oh please, let’s be honest. You have lots of clothes you never even wear. It is so interesting how much we take for granted and then ask for more.
Taking an Approach
Every moment you have a chance to make a new choice about how you approach your life. One way is some version of “what a hassle” and the other way is “what an opportunity.” When you take the first approach, you are more likely to be depressed, angry, and judgmental. Life can feel like a constant battle. When you take the second approach, you will feel more appreciative, grateful, and forgiving. Life can feel like a gift and you become more aware of the blessings all around.
This is more than just looking at the glass as half empty or half full. This is about remembering to be in touch with the thousands of things that are going right in your life that you normally take for granted instead of the few things that don’t go well. It’s about staying aware of your privilege. And, maybe it’s even about looking for ways to give back.
I have been practicing gratitude for a long time now, and this practice really helps. Instead of going straight to the negative when something goes “wrong,” I tend to look for the good in what is happening instead of looking for the bad. What I need to practice on now, is my irritation at people that constantly complain. (ha!) We all have our work to do.
SIDE NOTE: Our brains tend to be “sticky” for the negative and “teflon” for the positive (according to my friend Rick Hanson in The Buddha’s Brain), but we can recognize what the mind has done and not buy into its tendencies. Mindfulness helps you be aware of your thoughts and let them float by like clouds in an open sky. You can pick the cloud you choose to jump on or you can be with the spaciousness of an empty mind.
Since I mentioned “giving back” I want to give you a suggestion before I leave.
If you live in Columbia, there is a great way to cut back on all the plastic that you use. Our dearly beloved Leigh Lockhart at Main Squeeze has turned her store into an amazing array of items that are recycled. In addition, she is selling re-fillable laundry detergent, fabric softener, cleaning supplies, dish soaps, and dishwasher detergents. She gets her product from a company in Missouri and once her large containers are empty, she just goes to refill them. That’s what you can do as well. Buy a container and refill it at her store. That way you won’t even need to go to the recycling bins as often. Her motto is “Refilling is the New Recycling.”
Not only will you be helping to save the environment and your own body, but you will also have the pleasure of chatting with Leigh. She will tell you all about the benefits of refilling and show you the wonderful items she has in her store to make your life better and the world a better place to live. When I was there, I bought a great stain remover stick (I seriously love this thing), some bath crystals, a t-shirt, a bag made from recycled billboards, and deet-free mosquito repellant stickers.
Are you saying “What a hassle” or “What an opportunity?” The choice is yours.