The Upside of Irritation

The Peninsula Woman

May – Jun 2006


 “I don’t have pet peeves,

I have whole kernels of irritation.”

~Whoopi Goldberg

Life is full of situations, events, and people that can be not only frustrating, but also downright irritating.  It is easy to understand why there are so many people available to help us with conflict resolution.  But what can we do to solve these issues from a more conscious perspective?  How can we handle these difficult situations utilizing spiritual tools?

There are plenty of stories about spiritual teachers embracing the presence of an annoying student in their classrooms.  There is even one story that goes so far to suggest that a teacher had paid an irritating person to study among his students. Generally most people would like to avoid situations that cause them discomfort.  In many spiritual communities this is not so.  

Irritation is an important teacher and a strong indicator whether a student is making progress on their spiritual path.  Remaining centered and balanced during a time of crisis is essential to understanding your growth.  No matter how many times you try to control your life’s situations there will always be something you can be frustrated with.  What is more important in these situations is the knowledge as to what tools you have to know how you will need respond in situations that seem to be beyond your control. 

The goal of a spiritual life is not to try to control your environment but rather understand what the irritation is trying to teach you.  In any given situation we are simply unable to understand absolutely every aspect of what is going on.  For example, my plumber was late the other day to fix a fairly dramatic leak in my house. I was annoyed when he called to tell us he was running an “hour” late.  When I found out he was late because his wife was in a car accident I realized that my irritation really came from not knowing or understanding the whole picture.  If I had known that beforehand my irritation would not be there.

Now, this is a simple example.  What can you do in more dramatic situation?  What tools can you use?   In a more difficult case you must do your best to try to obtain all the information possible that can help you understand whether or not you need to take action.  Without a bigger picture it is impossible to know how to consciously respond.  Also, without responding in some way you will run the risk of getting caught in your emotions and feeling victimized by the situation.  Action is important.  But right action is more important.

Do you know how a Pearl is created?  Pearls are simply created by Oysters.  How does that happen? Oysters can become irritated by the presence of any foreign particle that gets into its body.  This is usually a small piece of rock or a grain of sand. To get rid of the irritant, the oyster lays down a layer of a shiny iridescent substance called a “nacre” around the particle to protect itself from the foreign substance.  It continues to lay down this substance over and over again.  The result of the Oyster taking the appropriate action is a beautiful and magnificent Pearl.  Without the irritant, there is no Pearl!

Three Tools for Handling Irritation

There are three simple things to do in any given situation that you can do to help you with what has caused irritation.  Number One: Give the problem at the very least 24 to 48 hours.  Time is always an element to help you relax into your emotions.  Number Two: Get all the information you can about the situation.  Ask questions. Even if they seem simple to you.  Talk to anyone and everyone that was part of the situation to get many more perspectives on what could of or should have been done from their opinions. Is this an unusual situation? Or is this what happens all the time?  Number Three:  If you have done the above two things you have done all that you can and so this next part is easy. Do what is necessary to resolve the conflict, or let it go.   

Oftentimes we do not see what is irritating us is actually helping us to grow.  Nature is, and always has been the teacher in this area. There is a natural order and flow in the universe.

When we observe and become more in tune with nature, wait and ask questions we will always take the right action. Remember, the irritant produced the Pearl. The result of a person taking an appropriate and conscious action is oftentimes a beautiful Pearl of Wisdom.