Irritability is my personal nemesis. It hounds me at unexpected moments. Whenever it raises its irksome presence it is because I feel hampered, chained, constrained, confined, cornered, obliged, ordered, expected, or mandated. I’m sure there are other words to add to those, but one gets the gist. You’ll note that the list is not so much about self-discipline and a need to be free ‘to do exactly as I choose’ as much as it is about being in attendance with an ‘other’ and having to answer to their wants. When not in a space of my own choosing (like being out with a group) but in the more personal space of my mind with one other, that’s when irritability raises its provoking prods. I dislike having to reveal private thoughts. In public we can conceal our thoughts in the voice of generalities. “What an interesting colour!” But in private, asked for the truth, we know that saying, “I think that colour is hideous” can be hurtful, insensitive, and uncaring. My complete yet malleable thoughts are suspect even to myself, anyway, since I am quite aware that they will have changed by the time I’ve finished uttering them; but in my experience, I am held accountable to what was said, not to what I now have realized, if you get my drift.
Me, me, me is at the root of irritability. Whatever reasons for the deep dark constellations that dwell in each of us, we come by our conditioning naturally. If I told you I was chained to a bed when a kid, or imprisoned in a cot, or tethered to a leash in grocery stores, or locked up in a stifling car while mother went shopping, or never allowed to ‘talk back’, or stifled by an education system that stressed conformity, or... well, there are other scenarios a creative mind can conjure; if I told you these things were true you might forgive my irritability. Shall we go on? You might forgive my indolence, my slothfulness, my avarice, my greed, my pride, my lustfulness, my deceitfulness, my any of seven deadly sins due to my impoverishment of upbringing. What’s more, I would most likely forgive myself. It sure would be reason enough for me to be an ‘I am what I am’ person. And I’d be irritable when I felt myself being picked upon, prodded to change, pried open, revealed, or arrested. Me wants what me wants!
I am almost invariably annoyed with myself once I’ve been irritable. Even in private. If I am moving something and the dangling cord gets stuck and tugs me back to complete awareness of what I am doing there are times when I do not smile at myself, but say ‘dang’, irritably. And then I learn to smile. But it is much harder so easily to forgive myself when my irritability affects another. That person may well have heard from me many times that I don’t want more sunscreen, but when they ask me yet again, out of care and concern, an irritable answer at the end of the day is really about ME. How do I allow for the other’s being whatever they are without my getting irritable? Were they to prod at me with a stick I well might remove myself, etc., but the degree of irritability experienced is ultimately about the ‘me’ in the moment, unable to be larger than the moment. Yes?
A favoured cartoon I’ve framed is of the devil overseeing a group of groaning workers in hell. One of them is whistling while he works. “We’re just not getting through to that guy,” says the devil. Ha! It is that fellow’s ability to go with the flow that intrigues. The ego of such an one is very healthy; much larger than the specific moment. And when the wheel squeaks, or the baby cries, or the questions arise, or the cord entangles, or the flow is interrupted, how does one just keep equanimity of poise, of balance, of harmony within the discord that presents itself? Irritability is as quick as a pin-prick. Reaction is almost invariably the same, for most of us; but responsiveness, now that takes insight. Indeed. Yes?