Triggers And Inner Landscape
What middle fingers and unscrewed toothpaste tops taught me
HONK HONK! The Land Rover behind us honked incessantly and there was nowhere for us to go as we were all riding the river of traffic. We were in the same lane and attempting to join the highway.
“Does this guy not understand there are cars in front of us?” I asked my husband, Shakil, in the driver’s seat. “He must be having a bad day.”
Shakil nodded in agreement. When we finally joined the highway, the same Land Rover continued to honk behind us. “Is there something he’s trying to tell us? Maybe something is wrong with our car.” Shakil changed lanes and slowed down. We were now in adjacent lanes and could see the driver in the Land Rover. The man flashed a middle finger at us and drove off.
“Yup. He’s having a bad day.” Shakil confirmed.
This was a recent long drive with my family. We were in a relaxed state and everyone was well fed. The kids were taking a nap and didn’t get to experience the moment. For some reason, the man flashing a middle finger didn’t bother us as it would under a different circumstance. Or possibly Shakil and I have grown more zen. The man in the Land Rover was simply an empty boat paddling towards us and happened to hit us. I was pleased with our newfound level of zen.
The next day, I woke up and when it came time to brush my teeth, I saw that the toothpaste’s top was unscrewed and left on the counter. Blood started to boil. I’ve had numerous conversations with Shakil on how much this bothers me, yet he still continues to do it. This seemingly small act led me down a trail of other “problems” that became noticeable: the wet towel not hung up the way I want, the dirty clothes almost in the laundry hamper but not quite, and the glass with dried up milk left on the kitchen table instead of the kitchen sink. I wasn’t able to ignore all these actions and move on with my day. How dare he not listen to me? Why does he expect that I will clean this up? Does he not understand how much this bothers me?
I sat with the tension for the day and my mind brought up the encounter with the man who flashed his middle finger in the Land Rover. How can a stranger’s middle finger not bother me as much as Shakil’s failure to screw back top of the toothpaste? Well, the Land Rover guy was just a one-time offense with a person I’ll never meet again. A complete stranger from whom I had no expectations. I have expectations from Shakil and I want him to screw back the damn toothpaste. It would make my life a lot better.
Or so it seemed it would make my life a lot better. There were so many stories reeling in the back of my mind as I looked at the unscrewed toothpaste. I gave the action more meaning than necessary and when I go down that rabbit hole, I’m faced with my controlling side. I want things to be a certain way especially in my home and if they are not, I lose it.
Shakil is not the problem. The problem is me defining unscrewed toothpaste as an action that I think means he doesn’t care. If he doesn’t care then that means he doesn’t love me. I was surprised to learn the connections I made in my mind that got triggered by my husband rushing in the morning and forgetting to screw the toothpaste cap back on. How and when did I allow this pattern to happen? What is the deeper story that I need to unpack?
Ultimately, my solution to the problem led me to invest in flip-top toothpaste after having many loving conversations with Shakil and not transpiring to a change of action from his side. When I saw it in the toothpaste aisle in Target, I knew this would be the solution to my problem. How come I didn’t see it before?
I waited till our old toothpaste finished to put the new flip-top toothpaste into the mix. When it finally happened, I saw the toothpaste flap left open staring back at me. By this time, I decided to not let this bother me anymore and I laughed at myself for trying to come up with solutions for this “problem”, which is also an indication of me trying to control the situation. Was this even a problem worth solving? I’m sure there are many more worthwhile problems that need my attention. It doesn’t end there. I’m still working on slowing down and giving room for the part of me that defines Shakil not listening to me or others not following my orders translating to “they don’t care about me and they don’t love me”. That deserves its own space to unpack.
Maybe you’d like to hear about how I’ve become more zen and now when I look at the open flip-top toothpaste greeting me in the morning, I smile and send love to my husband hoping he has a great day. Nope! That hasn’t happened. What has happened is that I check in on my inner landscape and internal weather patterns for the day. If that is stable then I feel assured that I can tackle any problem I encounter from an objective place. The toothpaste also serves as a reminder that I get to discern which problem is worth my time and attention. After I check in with myself, I send love to my husband and hope he has a great day as I open up a secret drawer in my bathroom to use my personal toothpaste that always has its cap screwed back on when I’m done.