Exercising Calm

I get off of work for the military and travel an hour north to do another job. I am usually early to the second job and have some time to kill and will stop by a Starbucks for a little bit to work on one of the many projects I have going. Seeing that I shouldn’t change out of my uniform on the side of the road, I am usually in uniform until I arrive at my final destination and I can change. Now this particular Starbucks is well known to me. I’ve stopped here on most Tuesdays for a little over two years now. The peopel that work here are nice and it is one of my favorite Starbucks.

I am sitting at a small table, I have my laptop open and am focused on a variety of things on my computer. Which projects are stalled, which ones are progressing, and I am also looking through a writing project I am working on, opening up a program for research, and so on. I am near a window and have a great view of the world around me. I am aware of the barista, a long time regular here, emtying out the trash. It is one of those trash cans that has a large cover that hides the actual trash can underneath. She picks up both and is emptying them, changing bags around, is five feet away from me, when the empty aluminium can drops onto the floor.

BOOM!

I am ripped from my concentration with the things before me, I half stand out of my chair, both arms are up in a fighting position, fists are curled, and I let out a muffled grunt sound. The two teenagers to might right are only slightly alarmed, but go back to their biology studies. The barista smiles at me while continuing to change the bag. She never slows her movement, smiles a little, and I grunt to her “I don’t like loud noises like that”. She never says anything but continues taking out the trash.

Now, I consider this, thus far, a major win. I used to have a very large, very pronounced startle response. In the past I would have likely spilled my coffee, knocked over my laptop, jumped out of my chair, and yelled curse words and obscenities. But I didn’t here, because I’ve done the work over time to get here.

I brought my hands together, closed my eyes, and just breathed. At first I was not aware of anything with my body, my attention was focused on what was outside of me, my thoughts were interpretting her smile as a smirk, that she never said anything to me as her non-caring. I ignore all these negative thoughts and focused only on my breathing….

In….

Out….

And I started to pick parts of my body that I was aware of. It started to dawn on my that my arms were very tight. I loosened them. Then I noticed that my legs were tight, then my chest, then my back, my stomach… back to my breathing. I started moving around my body, eyes still clsoed, and consciously feeling and releasing tension. I’d come back to a body part that I had just relaxed and would find out that I had only relaxed it partially. It took me several sweeps to relax my self. I noted my heart rate was quite high, but that it started to settle.

In….

Out….

Eyes still closed, hands before me, sitting at the little table, I was unconcerned with the world around me. In the past I would have felt embarassment and anger at other people seeing my reactions. But this time I did not concern myself with it. If concern did enter my awareness, between breaths, I gently told myself “let them see a Soldier in uniform exhibiting self control and gaining peace. Let them see a Soldier worthy of this nation.”

In….

Out….

After perhaps 2 or 3 minutes, I opened my eyes, felt the ease of being that I’ve worked so hard to learn how to develop. I cherish my combat reflexes, I do not want to get rid of them, the time may come to use them again. But I am not the slave to my passions, to the automatic reflexes of my nervous system, or the negative thoughts and mistaken perceptions rising from paranoid beliefs.

It could be that she didn’t know how to react to me. Perhaps she thought it best not to poke the bear with a stick. Perhaps she felt bad. Perhaps she realized that space and time were enough for me. Perhaps next time she’ll be nice (again, she is always nice). Perhaps a million other things other than where my mind wanted to go at first, and that is attributing selfishness and uncaring onto a person who has only ever done nice things for me whenever I stopped her for coffee.

And besides, had she meant to be rude or did not care or thought the affair amusing, I am a better version of my self for not reacting out of proportion. I am a better soldier for maintaining my self control.

In….

Out….

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