A Practical Application of Mindfulness

Morning Meeting at The Bay School includes 10 minutes of sharing in the form of a personal talk, a focus on our Precepts, or a performance by either a Bay community member or someone outside the community.  On October 4, founding staffulty member and Senior Signature Project Director Shadow Wang shared how he applied mindfulness during a recent DMV visit.

A Practical Application of Mindfulness, as told by Shadow Wang at Morning Meeting

We have a schoolwide mindfulness meditation practice, but we don’t always talk a lot about why. For me, this story illustrates one of the big reasons why I’ve come to value mindfulness as a meaningful part of my life.

My birthday was in early September, and my driver’s license was up for renewal. Because I’d renewed the previous two times by mail, this time I had to go to the DMV in person. I also decided that I’d get a REAL ID.

Starting in October 2020, you won’t be able to fly domestically using a regular driver’s license, and I know that at some point, I’ll be trying to fly to Walt Disney World for my annual pilgrimage and will have forgotten to bring my passport with me to the airport. So, getting a REAL ID license made sense.

When I went to the DMV, I had to bring proof of residence (a piece of mail sent to me at my home address), my Social Security card, and my passport as proof of identity. There I am at one of the DMV windows. At one point, the woman behind the counter says that she needs to make a copy of my passport and Social Security card. She gives me some forms to fill out while she goes into the back with my documents. She’s gone for longer than I expect, maybe 10 minutes. When she returns to the counter, she’s got her supervisor with her. The supervisor tells me that they’ve lost my passport.

I immediately started to feel myself getting upset. No, that’s an understatement. I was starting to lose my temper, which is something I never want to do. And this is where mindfulness came into play. I’ve been practicing mindfulness since I came to Bay 15 years ago.

One of the things that I’ve come to value about mindfulness is that it helps me respond rather than react to difficult situations. When I respond, I’m mature, calm, and helpful. When I react, I can lose my temper and say and do things that are the exact opposite of mature, calm and helpful. I’d give you an example, but I’m not supposed to use that sort of language at Morning Meeting. That would be a reaction, not a response.

Here’s what I did that let me move from my gut-level emotional reaction to a more reasonable response. I applied the acronym RAIN:

  • Recognize the emotions
  • Acknowledge them
  • Investigate the physical sensations
  • No judgment

I was listening to the DMV supervisor tell me that the worker had accidentally left my passport unattended on the glass of the photocopier for no more than 20 seconds, and during that time, it had somehow disappeared. At the same time, here’s what I was doing mentally.

Recognize the emotions: “Hmm,” I thought to myself. “I’m getting angry. And I’m afraid that someone else now has my passport and is going to do bad things with it like steal my identity. That’s happened to me once before, and it took 6 months to undo the damage. And I’m frustrated because this was in the morning on a school day, and while I had first period free, I did have a second period class, and I was going probably going to miss it.”

Acknowledge the emotions: “Yes,” I thought. “That’s how I feel right now. I’m mad, afraid, and frustrated. That is how I’m feeling right now.”

Investigate the physical sensations: I did a quick body sweep from my head to my feet. My shoulders were tense. My eyes were glaring at the two DMV workers. I had a knot in the pit of my stomach. I was shifting my weight back and forth out of nervousness. And both my fists were clenched really hard.

No judgment: “OK,” I thought to myself. “I’m feeling some pretty unpleasant emotions right now, but they’re also completely reasonable things to be feeling, given what’s happened.” We can’t control our emotions. Or at least I can’t. But I can try to control how I behave while I’m feeling them.

By the time I got done going through the RAIN acronym, I’d gotten past the “reaction” phase, and I was able to respond. I was still angry and afraid and frustrated, but I was also able to control my temper. And here’s what happened.

At first, the supervisor told me that he was sure that they’d find my passport and that they’d call me when they did. I explained to him my past history of having my identity stolen and told him that I wasn’t leaving until I had my passport back. I offered to help them search, but for security reasons, they couldn’t let me into the back office area. So, he told me to have a seat in the waiting area while the two of them looked.

I told the supervisor that I was worried that I’d just be sitting there for a long time, not knowing what was going on and not getting any updates. The supervisor told me that was a reasonable concern, so he gave me his personal cell phone number and told me that if he didn’t get back to me within 20 minutes, I could call him.

He didn’t need to do that. He didn’t have a work-issued cell phone; this was his personal phone. I’m pretty sure that if I’d lost my temper, he would never have done that. Moreover, if I had started ranting and raving and arm-flailing like a spastic Kermit the Frog — that’s what I do when I get really mad — I’d have felt horrible and guilty. When I lose my temper, I know that it’s not how I want to treat people, but I also can’t stop it.

It took 90 minutes, but they found my passport. In the 20 seconds that my passport had been left on the copier glass, someone else had apparently needed to use the copier, found my passport, and tossed it into a secure recycling bin. The bin had a locked cover because it’s meant for documents with sensitive information that need to be shredded, but fortunately, the supervisor had a key and finally thought to open the bin and look inside. And there it was.

And here’s the best part — before I left the DMV, the supervisor apologized one final time and thanked me for being so cooperative. He told me that a major part of his job was doing customer service recovery. Basically, when something goes wrong or someone’s upset, it’s his job to handle it. That’s difficult in any situation, but I’m pretty sure it happens a LOT at the DMV. I just shrugged and told him that I didn’t see how losing my temper would have helped. He laughed and told me that didn’t seem to stop a lot of people. And then I thanked him, left and came back to school.

In the end, I got my passport back, and I got my driver’s license renewed. I did miss my second period class that day, but when you get right down to it, it could have been much worse. I’ll take it.

Bay’s mindfulness meditation practice helps me treat people with kindness and understanding when my emotions are telling me to do otherwise. You can do it too. The next time you want to respond rather than react, try making it RAIN.