I’m reading this book about anger called “The Cow in the Parking Lot – A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger” and it’s written by a lawyer, Leonard Scheff (with Susan Edmiston) who felt that the Zen talks on anger sort of miss the mark with most Americans and he needed to explain it in a way most of us could grasp it.
In case you’re wondering, the cow in the parking lot stands for a way to visualize the person who just cut you off to take the parking space you had been waiting for. If you imagine it’s just a cow, and that cow had come to that spot every day for 3 years for a nap, your reaction might not be as angry. It’s all about the expectations.
The milling exercise he mentions is about how your anticipation of a good or bad interaction can cloud your perception of it during the interaction. I was thinking this is a great exercise for families, although he just describes doing it in workshops. In our family, sometimes what seems to be going wrong is more about family members’ perceptions of how others will treat them. This exercise helps you become more aware of the power of your expectations:
Step One: Everyone closes their eyes (no peeking) and mills about in a room that’s safe, with no sharp corners, etc. If you bump into someone, just set yourself another course and keep moving. Do this for about 5 minutes. Afterwards, talk about how you felt.
Step Two: Everyone should imagine that the other people are toxic and that they will get hurt if they come into contact with them. Then close your eyes and mill about just as in Step One for 5 minutes. Afterwards, talk about how you felt.
Step Three: Everyone should imagine that the other people are kind and loving and warm and that they will be happier if they come into contact with the others. Then close your eyes and mill about for 5 minutes. Afterwards, talk about how you felt.
In Step Two, did you notice more stress? Did you imagine someone had bad intentions towards you, or even malice? Did you feel fear or annoyance? In Step Three, were your nerves soothed? Did you find yourself smiling if you brushed someone’s arm?