OK. I get it. The idea that frustration can be an opportunity sounds counter-intuitive. Perhaps my first internal reaction was ‘This is one opportunity I can do without!’
Like most people I get frustrated; traffic jams, working my way through some telephone response system (If you want X push 1, Z, push 2, etc.), the wireless losing signal, the dog suddenly barking while I am trying to listen to something, we all can find many examples. It is a common part of life, particularly ‘civilized’ life, that we count on a variety of reasonable assumptions that don’t always pan out. Expectations unfulfilled, especially one after another, can increase our frustration to the point of some sort of angry outburst.
Yet while frustration (a form of anger) will arise, we can choose where if anywhere to go with it. When anger starts to emerge, instead of cursing, speeding or banging on something or someone, I can take a deep breath and remind myself: this is an opportunity to slow down and let go. This may sound a bit idealistic or naive but it has worked for me. In therapy we refer to this as re-framing something. The event remains the same but we can choose to view and react to it differently.
The check out line at the supermarket the other day had only two customers in front of me, one almost done. I started unloading my cart when I noticed the clerk was more focussed on talking to another clerk then processing the customer. He finally finished and the customer in front of me had only 4 items. It only took one item to cause more delay. The item they thought was on sale was not charged that way. Everything stopped as one of the clerks went to check the price, then they discussed it, consulted with a supervisor, then off to someone else. It was long enough that the people buying the item were obviously embarrassed. I wasn’t angry with them; I could empathize with the sometimes misleading signage and ads. The poorly handled delay was getting me frustrated.
While the clerk apologized to me, his actions seemed to make things worse. I could feel my body getting tighter with tension. The people behind me had left for another line. Three things helped me deal with the frustration. The clerk’s apologies did help some. My usually available sense of the absurd had me wondering how choosing this ‘short line’ became the long road, and just how many more ways would this continue to go wrong. Perhaps most importantly, I took a deep, slow breath, relaxing my shoulders and stomach. I mentally bowed, accepting what was unfolding like it or not, to be present with the experience.
I survived it. Yet more than that, I was able to use it to reclaim what was and is my own power. One of the main places I have power in life lies in how I respond to things. Recognizing my own developing frustration and anger I didn’t deny them so much as not feed them. I relaxed and in relaxing became aware that I had already been carrying tension before getting in line. I was able to reclaim a peaceful state of mind.