For the past three long months, I have been living in a, well, difficult situation.
The issue isn’t with my (super cute, petite, affordable) casa, which consists of one large room sectioned out into four distinct living areas.
The issue is with my neighbors. And the neighborhood.
They are, to put it mildly, vibrating on a different frequency than mine.
As an example, guess what their preferred music volume is? Loud (or extra-loud for some variation).
Their preferred number of vehicles per household? As many as possible (and if you run out of room on the driveway, there is always the yard for extra parking).
Household pets? Let’s just say leashes, like yards and fences, seem to be optional. The first day I rode my bicycle down my new street, I was chased by a wide assortment of small and large snarling, slavering canines.
Often when I return home, there is an unknown, collar-less, leash-less dog “guarding” my front gate…from me.
I don’t like any of this one bit, of course, and over the past three months I have expended a great deal of energy on silent and not-so-silent protests. I rage to myself when the neighbor’s pit bull barks ceaselessly all night while his yardmate adds in a complimentary high-pitched whining howl.
Occasionally I go outside and yell (here, I vary it between “shut UP!,” “you stop!” and stuff I don’t really want to type out here).
Sometimes I write letters full of vague warnings attached to copies of local nuisance and noise control ordinances. These make me feel temporarily better…or sane…or at least distracted from the endless raging inner critic who simply cannot believe “these people.”
When none of that works, I call the cops. Again.
As a constant refrain underneath all this chaos, my mind can be heard endlessly repeating a variety of indignant questions such as, How could they? How dare they? Who are these people? Do they not notice they have neighbors – neighbors who have ears and eyes and can totally hear and see the disaster zone unfolding right next door?
It boggles the mind. Even worse, it boggles the emotions, and keeps them reliably boggled for what might otherwise become many blissfully calm and productive hours.
Recently I began to realize how trapped I have become in this endless cycle of “neighbor noise – inner rage – outer breakdown.” It is so reliable.
The neighbor’s dog barks once, loudly. My “insensitive neighbor radar” perks up. The dog barks a second time. The radar extends. By the third bark the radar is issuing its own series of in-house alert signals and my mind and attendant emotions are off on yet another rant, with very predictable peace-eradicating results.
Another day, simply ruined from within.
A few days ago I was re-reviewing Don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements for about the 4,000th time since I moved to this neighborhood. One agreement says, “Don’t make assumptions.”
I pondered this, seeing as I did so all of the assumptions I’ve been making about my neighbors and their choices and behaviors parading past my mind’s eye.
Another agreement says, “Don’t take anything personally.”
I then pondered this, with a growing uncomfortable awareness of how very personally I take every bark, every muffler rumble, every tejano top hit baseline as it rattles my already shaky windowpanes yet again.
These neighbors. They are doing this TO ME. They are making MY LIFE miserable. They are such AWFUL people. They are so THIS…and so THAT…who ARE these people?
Plot line synopsis: I am such a saint. Why do I always end up living next to insensitive, inconsiderate people like these people? I try so hard and yet here we are again. Horrible people. I hate people.
Not surprisingly, this plot line really works for me. I also like my character, the “heroine,” very much indeed.
But it doesn’t help me find any peace or resolution. And it doesn’t make me feel any better – in fact, sometimes it makes me feel worse, hopeless even.
It also doesn’t resolve the situation. In other words, it doesn’t make the people around me change their ways.
Day after day, they keep bringing home new vehicles and finding new, creative parking spots for them.
Day after day, they keep sharing their musical preferences at top volume with the whole neighborhood.
Day after day, their dogs keep roaming the sidewalks and streets, whether by choice or by force (such as when their former owners decide having a pet is cheaper and easier when that pet lives outside the fence and other people feed it).
Day after day, I keep coming home and finding the same people doing the same things. And day after day, somehow I continue to be reliably shocked by this jaw-dropping lack of change.
So I have concluded it is time to no longer be shocked.
It is time to no longer take this discordance, this incompatibility of frequencies, this stark contrast between what I think is acceptable behavior and what they clearly believe is acceptable behavior, personally.
It is time to no longer make assumptions that there is any other reason for what I see playing out here in this neighborhood on a daily basis other than personal choice.
In other words, there is no sub-plot, no deeply textured hidden storyline, no tales of woe or sorrow, no anything driving the way of life here other than pure preference.
In fact, I bet if I left here tomorrow and came back in six months or six years, the same exact things would be going on. Same loud music. Same stacked up cars. Same free-range canines. Same hit-or-miss home and yard decor. Same suspicious glares in the rare moments I try to wave at a neighbor or (god forbid) say “hi!”
In which case, it clearly isn’t personal. It can’t be personal.
It just is what it is, as my mentor might say.
Somehow, my mind is still really, really struggling to grasp this. But I know it is the truth.
And I also know now that “live and let live” will never be enough to overcome my frustration, indignation, judgment or condemnation of what I see and hear during my temporary time living here.
“Love and let live” – this is my only hope, and also my only path back to any hope of inner sanity and peace.
Today’s Takeaway: Have you ever lived or worked in a place where the dominant culture or behavior was so unlike you as to feel like you were in a foreign country – or maybe even on another planet? Did you feel angry or frustrated or sad or just an overwhelming desire to change your surroundings to be more to your preference? What did you do to cope with this discordance? What helped you make peace with or at least extend acceptance or tolerance to patterns, habits, preferences or a way of life that was so different than your own?