Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Horrible Coworker of Friend

In response to my grumbling about my coworker, a friend sent me this:

I once worked in a trailer at a chemical plant writing documentation.

The other writer would fill a mug with ice, then stick her paw in the
mug and chomp it ALL FREAKING DAY. She also belched quite a bit and talked loudly on the phone about her gynecological problems. We
reached a zenith of sorts one day. She was in the bathroom (paper
thin trailer walls, mind you) and I heard "OH MY GOD!" in a
hysterical voice. For a brief, flickering moment, I thought God had
answered my prayers and she had fallen in. But no. She came stomping out of the bathroom and picked up her phone (did I mention that by this point we shared a cube?) and proceeded to call her Gyn. to tell her "I was just in the bathroom, and I had a HUGE amount of discharge! It's white with a little bit of pink in it and it's like NOTHING I'VE EVER SEEN BEFORE!"

I got to where I'd send my friends a daily email filled with my
coworker's exploits. We ALL knew when she was ovulating, what kind of sex she'd had with the BF the night before, and whether or not Papa
John's Pizza had given her diarrhea. My younger cousin used to remove all identifying information from my emails and post them on his
website. My coworker had quite a following, and didn't even know
it. :)

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Tranquil Afternoon with Much Chomping

I have a new coworker who sits right next to me and makes a cacophony of unsavory noises with his mouth off and on all day long, eating-related and otherwise: much slurping, smacking, teeth-sucking, and chatting with others while his mouth is obviously full. I have been irate about it for a week.

I finally discussed the matter with my boss, who said he would also find that irritating, but, fortunately, he couldn't hear it from inside his office, and that I should just ask the person to stop, in a lighthearted manner. Given that I was boiling with resentment at this person and had stopped acknowledging his existence at all, I couldn't quite picture making a lighthearted remark to him about anything.

I was reading two books this weekend. One (The Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts) talks about the futility of separating ourselves from our experience, because they are one and the same. It's not like there's me and my pain; it's all one thing, and my efforts to separate the two are what cause or worsen the misery, but if I can realize the futility of the effort, the mind has a wondrous capacity to absorb and deal with discomfort, according to this author.

The other book (Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach) talks about pausing to take note of our actual bodily experience--noticing what we feel in our throat, chest, and belly--and accepting that our experience is currently as it is. She tells an anecdote about being on retreat and being irritated by everything: people sneezing and making noise and this, that and the other.

This sounded rather familiar, as I have lately been irritated by this smoking neighbor, the other smoking neighbor, the loud neighbor, the other loud neighbor, etc. And then the new coworker making the unmannerly noises. All very annoying.

The second author realized she had become very rigid, mentally saying, "No! No! No!" So she decided to try saying "yes." Yes to the lousy weather! Yes to the person who just sneezed on me! Yes to the cigarette smoke coming in the window! Yes to the sounds my coworker is making!

(This doesn't mean that you might not end up making a request of the sneezing person or the coworker, but rather that you pause to assess your actual experience and see how you're making it worse by how you think about it and tense up.)

So this weekend I practiced saying yes to various irritations, and resolved that I would also say yes to my coworker's noises.

After all, it's not like having my fingernails pulled out by Homeland Security. (I saw a Homeland Security vehicle pass by this weekend. It was frightening.) If I WERE having my fingernails pulled out by Homeland Security, no doubt I would say, "Oh, if only I could be in my cube listening to my neighbor eat his lunch!"

I'm pleased to report that either my coworker has gotten the hint by some other means, or the magical power described by the first author really works, or I've gone stone deaf, or it's that I was making the actual experience way worse via my mental processes.

The coworker is making the noises, but of course it's not literally every second, and when it happens, I think, "Yes to that noise," and it's over (for then, at least) in an instant.

Whereas last week I was thinking, "I hope he's not going to make that noise. Oh, I'll bet he's going to at any moment. Aargh--there he goes! This is terrible! Where does he think he is, in a barn? Maybe I should try to get him moved to another cube. Maybe I should move to another cube. Maybe I should try to work at home every day. There is not one place where it's quiet and peaceful! It was perfectly peaceful here until this fellow arrived; if only he would leave or if only he had never come." Etc. And THAT process basically took all day long.

(I just heard this coworker say to someone else, "I see your ball hog scored 81 points last night. What's wrong with that boy?" Kobe Bryant, playing basketball. I nearly chuckled at that. Maybe we'll even end up being friends.)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Unruly Self-Cleaning Meditator

One of the periodic small challenges in my meditation practice, underway since 1991, is sitting with the sounds of my beloved cat, Thelonious, licking herself, which she often seems to do while I'm meditating. I find the slurps and gulps almost unbearable, and confess that I have often hissed "Stop it!" or flapped in her direction the sweatshirt that covers my knees. Then I think guiltily of my meditation teacher, who has never said "Don't yell at your cat while meditating," probably for the same reason Jean Kerr neglected to tell her kids not to eat the daisies.

I've tried at times to treat the noise as just another object of meditation; I've tried to experience the sound as just a sound, without the labels and opinions; I've tried noticing my own discomfort.

Last night I realized I'm going to have to pretend that Thelonious is a fellow meditator on a retreat. I go on one retreat a year, either at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, or down near Joshua Tree. Quite frequently another meditator is doing something during a group sitting which is annoyingly audible: someone comes in late, after everyone is settled, and unzips her jacket; someone else has a chronic cough; a person some rows ahead sighs lugubriously every ten or so minutes. At one retreat, I sat next to a woman who spent a fair amount of time each day gently rubbing her hands back and forth on the tops of her own thighs. She probably wasn't aware that it made any sound at all, let alone what sounded to me like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed together. Another time, I was next to a woman who invariably whipped open a notebook five minutes into each period of sitting and began feverishly recording her insights. I once even saw a fellow consulting his Palm Pilot underneath his blanket, the little square of light a beacon to the faltering meditators behind him, unseen by the teachers up front.

These retreats are silent in the sense that participants don't speak to each other, or even catch each others' eyes, so it is not possible to vent dissatisfaction directly. It is possible to write the teachers notes to ask them, for instance, to remind everyone that such-and-such an area is for walking meditation and not for yoga or vice versa. I've written such a note once or twice myself, but would feel foolish writing a note about some small sound like the one made by the woman rubbing her thighs. And since there isn't a teacher at home to whom to write a note ("Could you please request that no one LICK him or herself during the group sittings?"), I am going to have to put up with the unruly meditator who licks herself.