Carry it with you…or Leave it by the River
The missing barcode
I was third in the supermarket queue when the cashier came across an item which wouldn’t scan. It didn’t have a barcode. On her busy shift, the cashier could have called for a supervisor – and given herself an opportunity for a break and had a sip from her water bottle.
So didn’t. To save time for the people in the queue she stood up, saying “I won’t be a minute”, and dashed off to check the pricing.
The customer turned to the customer next in line, and who I’ll call Mrs B, and apologised profusely for delaying her.
Mrs B, an elderly lady, said “It’s not your fault, luv. It’s them. They should have everything properly priced up! It’s disgusting, a disgrace! Happens a lot these days. Holding people up like this…!”
The customer at the front smiled sympathetically but, wisely, did not follow up on the outburst.
Mrs B, on the other hand, carried on muttering under her breath until the cashier rushed back less than 90 seconds later.
Then Mrs B got served. Sullen-faced, silent and avoiding eye-contact she paid for her goods. And left.
I was next in line and chatted with the cashier while she scanned my items and I packed them. I thanked her for rushing off to get that barcode. She said “Oh, one of the supervisors hasn’t come in today so they’re rushed off their feet!”
Then I paid and left.
It’s a disgrace!
End of story?
No. I passed Mrs B in the mall a little later. She was standing and talking with a man who seemed to be Mr B. They were talking animatedly – lots of frowning and head-shaking and varied voice tonalities.
I was curious. So, as I passed them (deliberately closely and purely in the interests of research, you understand…)
I was amazed that, yes, she was still going on about the delay caused by the unpriced item. And how terrible it was that she had to wait. And how stores should have items properly priced. And how customers shouldn’t be delayed like that.
This was now about 10 minutes since she’d been delayed… for 90 seconds. And so far she had devoted 10 minutes of her life to being angry about a delay of 90 seconds… And she looked like she was just getting into her stride with the complaining – just warming to her theme.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I spent about seven or eight years as a full-time travelling hippy from the late sixties. (And, yes, I can remember the sixties – I think.)
Anyway, in my ‘hippy phase’ there were a few books that were obligatory – if you wanted to be considered ‘cool’, that is. And being considered cool by other cool hippies was important – there was a hierarchy of cool-ness, back then.
Anyway, these books included The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Siddhartha, The Medium is the Massage, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Little Prince – and, towards the end of my hippy phase, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Now I can’t remember much about Zen and the Art except for one moment that more or less changed my life… and that’s worth remembering. The author is on a 17-day motorcycle journey through the US. In one chapter he’s cruising along and suddenly his travelling reverie is disturbed when he realises that he is being tailgated by a car. He decides not to get angry or get involved in a race with the car. Instead, he pulls over and allows it to pass him.
His reasoning “I’m not going to let that driver control my mood for the rest of the day.”
Reading that had a huge impact on me.
Letting events control our mood
At that moment. I realised that, since I was a youngster, I’d allowed the views and behaviour of other people to influence my mood. And, especially, to ‘make’ me irritable.
This one incident in the book stopped me short.
I still remember having to put the book down and go off for a walk to think about the implications. It made me aware of how I’d grown up believing that the behaviour, moods, and opinions of other people actually ‘caused’ my moods.
The tail-gaiting description was like a bombshell: They are controlling my mood – because of the way that ‘I’ think about ‘their’ actions. It was a stunning revelation – which was reinforced a few years later when, as a participant in the NLP Practitioner Programme, I came across the NLP Meta Model and especially the Cause & Effect category. Essentially this Meta Model category describes how events cannot cause our emotions – it is our thinking about the events which controls our mood.
The event? Or our thinking about the event…?
Mrs B wasn’t made angry by the supermarket staff not putting a barcode on the item.
Nor by the cashier being so helpful in leaving her desk to get the right price as quickly as possible.
Nor by the minimum-waged employee who forgot to put the bar code on the item, in the first place.
Mrs B’s mood was being created by Mrs B’s thinking about the event. And her mood was reinforced by her continuing to talk about it to Mr B. And, no doubt, by thinking about it for the rest of the afternoon. And, as seems pretty likely, by telling her friends and family over the coming days about her traumatic delay.
So a sizeable chunk of Mrs B’s life that day, and maybe on subsequent days, will have been wasted by her thinking about how the world and the supermarket conspired to delay her for a whole 90 seconds.
The outraged monk
The two young monks were heading through forest on their way back to their temple.
Their journey involved wading across a wide and fast flowing river. When they reached the crossing point they saw a young woman standing on the bank. She was quite distressed because she was unable to get across to get home.
One of the monks offered to help and so he carried her across the river on his shoulders. On reaching the other side he set her down on the river bank and she thanked him and the two monks continued on their way.
His fellow monk was silent all the way back. But when they had almost reached the temple this second monk could no longer contain himself and angrily blurted out ‘I can’t believe what you did! You’ve touched a woman. You have broken your sacred vow to remain chaste and pure!’
The first monk paused, looked at his outraged companion and said ‘My brother, I left her on the river bank half an hour ago – but you are still carrying her with you…’
“Leave it by the River”?
I first came across the monks’ story shortly after reading Zen and the Art. Since then ‘leave it by the river’ has become a ‘saying’ in our household. We use it whenever either of us (often me) begins going over past events or dragging up stuff that should be left alone – whether this be hours ago or years ago.
It’s our agreed signal to consider:
“Is there anything to be done about this event? Or learned from it?
Yes? Then do that now.
No? Then leave it by the river.”
‘Leave it by the river’ is a handy way of staying focussed on what’s important. Give it a go : ))
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