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The radiator story

In one of her public teaching, Pema Chodron tells a story about a meditation session she endured years ago.

She was trying to quiet her mind, but the man next to her wouldn’t stop clicking his tongue.

Thoughtlessly clicking his tongue, over and over. How could he not realize how distracting he was being?

During a break in the meditation, Pema resolved to kindly confront the man and his quirk.

But there was no man to be found. Instead, the sound was coming from an old radiator.

And suddenly the sound wasn’t irritating anymore.

Pema realized that she was projecting thoughtlessness on the imagined man and his clicking tongue. But thoughtlessness cannot apply to an inanimate object. 

The thoughtlessness, the interruption, the irritation—all in her head.

Sometimes it helps to confront the person who is annoying us. But sometimes the irritation is something we make up on our own. 

And so a series of questions to consider:

What if this annoying person was an inanimate object, merely doing what it was made to do? Would I still be annoyed? Would I take it so personally?

Not foolproof, but useful questions nonetheless.