The One Question That Transformed Frustration into Compassion

Maple leaves in the fall

The greatest insight can come from the most mundane incidents. This is what I experienced last week.

I went shopping with my family to Costco (A volume store where everything is massive). The store gets busy fairly quickly. People move around with giant carts, and within less than an hour, line-ups at the cash registers start blocking the isles.

For someone like me who doesn’t like to shop, Costco is an Olympic sport that needs skill and stamina—two things I sorely lack. To top it off, I had a sinus headache the night before and took some pills. So I felt numb and sluggish in the morning—not an ideal combo for Olympic shopping. But we went anyway because it was the most suitable weather for this dreaded chore.

My partner and I had a plan, and we thought my eighty-year-old mother would just follow along. She did her best, but she wasn’t fast enough to for me. And I felt frustrated.

After a few moments of aggravation, I looked at my mother from a distance. She’s so tiny, yet sharp and feisty. She does what she wants (she likes to look around at different things she doesn’t need, and she tends to compare prices even for things she’s not going to buy). It’s part of her process. When I pressure her, I stress her out, and take away from her experience.

Then a question came to me, as I kept looking from a distance.

Would I rather be efficient, or compassionate?

The question practically answered itself. Of course compassion is a better choice. I looked at my mother again, and smiled.

All the impatience melted away when I decided to be kind, and just roll with it.

The moment I dropped my need for speed, things went smoothly. I helped my mother without pressuring her. I also kept a reasonable pace that was more comfortable for my numb brain. We’ll get done when we get done. And that was that.

She got all the things she wanted without me dictating how, or where to go. I waited patiently when she wanted to look at clothes.

It didn’t take more time than any other trip. Except this time it didn’t feel like it was a painful obligation. It was an opportunity to be kind and be there for my family.

I felt immense gratitude for this tiny shift in perspective. It transformed needless struggle into surrendered acceptance of the moment, and all the beauty it contained. My compassion expanded beyond my mother to other shoppers. I felt connected with life instead of overwhelmed and stressed.

Would I feel the same way on my next visit to Costco? I don’t know. I’ll remind myself of the same question and see what comes up. But I know something in me changed because I broke the subconscious reaction. Whatever choice I make will be more favorable than unconscious suffering.

Every moment can be an opportunity for us to step out of old programming, and make a different choice. And the best choices are the ones that align with our values, and surrender to reality, instead of trying to control it.

Whenever you’re faced with a challenge, look for the want behind it. What are you trying to control? What expectations do you have? And then look at reality.

The friction between reality and expectations can be summed up in this basic question.

Would you rather live this moment, as it is, or would you rather fight it?

A few examples of questions that may come up:

  • Would I rather enjoy my precious time with my family right now, or would I force myself to get things done efficiently?
  • Would I rather clean the bathroom, or keep nagging others in the house to do it?
  • Would I rather accept my bad mood and just be, or keep arguing with myself, and others, about silly stuff in an effort to blow off some steam?

The most helpful and peaceful option is usually the one that embraces the reality of the moment.

  • Having a bad mood, just breathe into it and let yourself be.
  • Feeling stuck and unsure of what to do, accept the feeling and focus on something else, or calmly explore other options. Or do nothing.
  • A family member constantly brings up negative stuff that annoys you, feel the annoyance, and make a choice. Can you give them the space to be who they want to be in this moment with love? Can you let go of wanting to control what they want to talk about?

Reality is always the wise choice. When we choose reality, we:

  • Favor kindness and compassion
  • Express love
  • Feel grateful
  • Feel free to just be
  • Connect with life and others

There is power in surrender. There is peace in acceptance. And there is love in allowing all to be as it’s meant to be.