Tolerating Those Little Creamers

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that irritate me. For some reason, down here in Louisiana, they don’t serve cream in little pitchers on the table. The custom seems to be to serve it in those little plastic one-serving cups. See below for the irritating little buggers.1My co-workers already know when the server puts them on the table that I’m going to go off on a tangent. Sometimes they even bring one back from lunch and put it on my desk just to tease me. It bothers me because it seems ridiculous to put a little plastic cup in a landfill for eternity especially when I have to use three of them for one cup of coffee. I know it’s probably cost-effective for the restaurants and coffee shops, but it seems very costly for the environment. Besides, I happen to like real half and half that comes in a carton that started out in a cow. And, how much does a carton of half and half really cost? Anyway, it doesn’t matter because they didn’t ask me.

I was in a meeting the other day, and a young man asked to talk about tolerance. He didn’t elaborate so I don’t know what was bothering him, but I certainly know what it’s like to struggle with intolerance. During my initial work in my spiritual practice, I realized that I had a real problem with organizations and people that were intolerant, bigots and grumpy people who are irritated by everything in life. The irony, I realized, is that I’m intolerant of intolerance. How do you like them apples? You spot it, you got it, right?

I have trouble tolerating lots of things. I’m much better than I used to be. Now, I usually don’t act on it and express my feelings, but I find myself struggling with intolerance all of the time. As I reflected on the young man’s question, I thought about the root of intolerance. It’s actually about tolerating my own emotional state without having to change it or fix whatever is bothering me. For instance, with the little plastic creamers, what I really feel is guilt. I feel guilty because I’m throwing something into a landfill for eternity just to satisfy a momentary craving. It seems like a large burden to put on the next generation, especially when I enjoy nature and our environment so much. I could complain to the server. I could complain to the manager. I could make a scene to try to get them to change it. But, really, what is the point of that? What I struggle with is tolerating my own guilt. It’s uncomfortable to feel guilty. And, if I feel guilty long enough, I can get into shame.

A friend of mine posted this article the other day on FaceBook. There are five key things that people regret on their deathbeds. I was surprised to see that many people wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings. I first had to be aware that my feelings were mine. I spent many years blaming others for things that they did because it caused me anger, hurt, fear, guilt, etc. The answer, in my mind, was to get them to change their behavior so I would feel better. When I finally learned to identify my feelings – when I learned the difference between what fear felt like in my body as opposed to anger or sadness – I realized that my feelings could not be changed by other people’s actions or behavior. I learned that if I let myself feel guilty, for instance, and tolerated the discomfort long enough, I could identify why I felt that way. It was only at that point, at that deeper level of understanding, that I could make an informed decision as to what I needed to do. Most often, there is nothing to be done. I have no control over other peoples’ actions or the weather or the state of the economy. I can ask another person to do something, but I cannot make them do it. So, then I just have to tolerate my own feelings. Ugh … I hate being in discomfort. Being unable to tolerate discomfort is precisely why I liked alcohol, why I tried to control uncontrollable people and why I eat too much sugar.

The hardest things I ever tolerate are my own feelings. I hate when relationships end or when they are in trouble. I hate when I’m stressed or work isn’t going well. I hate when I’m in trouble financially. But, it’s not the event itself that I hate. It’s that I hate having uncomfortable feelings. I hate when I feel pain, sadness, fear, anger or guilt. I hate it when they bring out those little plastic cups with my coffee. I guess I could ask if they could bring some milk or cream out in a pitcher beforehand. I may do that when I’m in a restaurant. If not, I’m just going to tolerate my feelings about it. It’s not the server’s fault that I feel the way I do. It’s not the company that makes those little creamers’ fault that I feel the way I do. We just have different priorities and different needs. That’s what makes the world go round, doesn’t it?

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