It’s day two, (day one is best forgotten, it wasn’t a roaring success) and I’m bounding optimistically towards the station. It’s one of those little un-manned-request-stop kind of stations, so I’m quite surprised to see so many people there; it easily runs into double figures! Having arrived in good time, I’m a little peeved that the train hasn’t, and I’m about to get started on a silent tirade about British trains being incapable of arriving on time even if the starting point is only one stop away, but quickly stop myself from a full-blown rant and swap the ring I’m wearing from the finger on my right hand, to one on my left. Saved by the ring! The train is quite late now and there’s a group of people indulging in what I rather cynically call the great British pastime of complaining to the wrong person. It’s only when I realise that feeling smug about not being engaged in their negativity is actually negative too, that I swap the ring back to the original finger. The ring swapping is just meant to break into whatever negative stream I have running through my head, or worse still, out of my mouth! and ‘re-route’ me. I’ve read somewhere that you can change a habit, re-wire your brain effectively, in 21 days, and I decided to give it a go. For the next 19 days I’m going to be swapping the ring from one hand to the other every time I catch myself criticising, judging, blaming, complaining (unconstructively) not to mention verbally abusing myself!
So far so good, but then someone checks the live train up-dates on their phone and we all huddle round to find out what’s happening. The train has been cancelled. No explanation, just cancelled and there we all are waiting for a non-existent train. Tempers start to rise and everyone has a story about how the train company has let them down before. I get stuck in with my own story; it feels good to be part of this group and my story’s a good one so everyone’s listening to me. Stuff the inexpensive finger jewellery, I push it out of my consciousness, and nod supportively to those who’ve taken over from me with their stories. It’s only when it’s all over and the group has dispersed that the buzz subsides and it doesn’t feel so good anymore, in fact I liken it to a sugar rush and the dip that follows. So does this mean I’m addicted to this kind of negativity? I swap the ring over. I don’t enjoy the idea that I might be even worse than I thought I was before I started this experiment, so I try arguing with myself that this really is shabby treatment from the train company, and therefore maybe I’m justified in reacting like this? I choose to ignore the fact that they’ve actually got me to my destination far more times than they haven’t, and I’m irritated when I see a ‘complaints’ phone number on the billboard near to where I’m sitting. What good would that do? So now I’m indulging in the great British pastime with myself! I’m effectively complaining to myself, unwilling to complain to someone who just might be able to do something about it.
When I do finally board a train, I switch my attention to the complete absence of a reply to a text message that I sent hours ago, and swing so frequently from feeling offended to letting it go, that I imagine other passengers must be thinking I have some kind of nervous tic as I constantly move my ring from one hand to another. Reaching my destination LATE now has somehow licenced me to cast judgement over anybody who dares to dawdle in front of me and slow me down further. My fingers are feeling sore.
On around day 16, I’m out and about again but in a different town and I do actually feel different. There have been some good days, as well as some that have been every bit as challenging as the one above when I might have given up if it weren’t for the knowledge that where I started from isn’t somewhere worth returning to. But this day I would classify as good, although by and large, I’m ‘classifying’ a little less now in an attempt to break the judgement habit. Something MUST be different because not only am I feeling buoyant, but complete strangers are smiling at me for no apparent reason. I go with the flow just until the point where doubt sets in and I wonder if I’ve misinterpreted their smiles and in fact they’re an expression of amusement, so I quickly make a few checks. My clothing seems to be doing what I had in mind when I started the day, and reflections in shop windows reveal nothing untoward about my hair or face. So maybe I can just accept this as it is. And now I’m smiling for no apparent reason.
By day 21 I’ve already realised that although I haven’t magically transformed into an all-round nice person, there has been a shift and I feel more in control. Added to that, I’m generally a little more easy-going on myself which is an outcome that I hadn’t anticipated: I’d started in the hope that I might feel less angry when the world doesn’t work the way I want it to, and there’s still plenty of progress to be made there, but this starting point will be an invaluable basis in the weeks and months, even years to come. I know I can do this. The glimpses I’ve had have been enough to know that with continued awareness of my thoughts, the world will continue to look different and the potential is exciting, but for now, the realisation that I don’t have to be a prisoner in my own head, tormented by whatever happens, what might happen, or what I assume to have happened, well that's a sense of peace that’s been unattainable for way too long.