The ants, the blackbirds and the water company

Dear world,

It’s a beautiful spring morning here in Madrid. The sky at 7.15 was a deep, dark blue, the trees lit by the first warmth of the sun, the magical transition time between night and day. The birds sing for spring now in the mornings, and ants are appearing again from the cracks in the pavement to scurry out and collect the seed pods from the platano trees, leaving piles of fluffy remains around the entrances to their nests having plucked out the seed for their hoards inside. Like the trees, they are awakening after winter. I can feel it too in me. Spring is an awakening time.

I was struck the other day by our ability to change our reaction to anything in an instant. We have our newborn baby in the house and like to take her out for a walk every day. One morning, a sunny spring morning that was far too nice to spend inside, I got back from taking our son to school to discover that the local water company had parked a lorry right outside our front door and set up a very noisy generator and a cement mixing machine. The generator was blasting away at high decibels, way too high to take a newborn past, and looked set to stay on all morning.

My first reaction was not positive. I was very, very annoyed. It was the best morning we’ve had for months, it was pulling me outside almost magnetically, but there was no way we were getting past that noise with the baby. We were stuck inside until they would go. And who knows how long that would be!

So I found myself annoyed, highly frustrated, and beginning to feel really p-d off. And then I said to myself, “I know this feeling, I always feel like this in this kind of situation, what if I just totally change my reaction to this?” And that seemed like the best idea I’d ever heard. Immediately all my frustration and annoyance just dropped away. I accepted I wasn’t going out into the glorious sunny day for a while, and went and sat on the bed with the baby, looking at spring out of the window. I spent a glorious, relaxing, content couple of hours like this, absolutely happy to do nothing and go nowhere, just to be, and to recuperate some much needed energy.

And then after those couple of hours the water company suddenly packed up and drove off. The street returned to peace and quiet, and we got our lovely walk in the spring sun.

So this has got me thinking. What else can I change my reaction to? It’s so easy after all! Even if it seems so difficult! I think it starts with the realisation “here I am again, reacting like this again”, and is followed by a simple decision that reacting like that isn’t what I want to do any more. So many things I can apply it to!

Three fat blackbirds are sitting on the fence on the other side of the road. The magnolia is coming into flower in the neighbour’s garden, it looks set to be another stunning spring day. A day to be in peace with the world.

I hope you have a wonderful day.



14 thoughts on “The ants, the blackbirds and the water company

  1. Dear Ben and Marina, congratulations on the new baby. The best to Marina.
    I also get extremely annoyed at loud noises,especially when unnecessary as the music in the gym. I enjoy your posts. Barbara


    1. Thanks Barbara. it is amazing how much loud music there is in places that surprise me! There is a supermarket chain in Spain, Aldi, where they have a policy of no music at all, it’s wonderful!


  2. ¡Felicitaciones! What a lovely surprise and timely reminder that our reactions can change an annoying situation into a positive one. 🙂


  3. This is my all-time favorite blog. Sorry it took me this long to tell you so. Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Nothing like a new baby to keep you present in the here-and-now 🙂


  4. Thanks for the post Ben. You might like the TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight. Your experience with the water company reminded me of it. Also I feel very happy to hear of your newest family member.


    1. Thanks Donna! I’ve heard of that TED talk but don’t think I’ve ever watched it – when time permits I’ll check it out!


  5. “Wait. I recognize this feeling. In the past, it has driven me to do and say things I later regretted. So today, this circumstance will be my teacher. I will sit with it and watch the feelings arise. I can’t expect to stop them. But I can watch, and not let them carry me away.”

    I try to say thus to myself when the water company is fouling my plans, someone is “in my way” on the freeway, etc. What has surprised me is how much of the time I am not awake, and so react in unhelpful, habitual patterns. Just yesterday I was in a meeting with the English Dept. at my college and caught myself, mid-speech, reacting overly aggressively to a comment another teacher had made. And I know I probably had “that grumpy look” on my face as I spoke . . . . Our actions affect others in such deep ways–so I am working on coming from a place of equanimity and compassion rather that not.

    Coda to a longish response: The latest Tom Hanks movie (City of Spies?)–not sure on the title–has a wonderful supporting role in it. The character is a captured Russian spy who is so wonderfully calm (and an artist!) and who offers great one-line rejoinders to Hanks’ and others enquiries. When asked if he is scared, anxious, or angry, her turns and says, “Would that help?” He delivers his line in that great gray area between genuine and rhetorical questions.

    Congratulations on your new baby Marina and Ben.

    Oh-oh . . . the leaf blowers have just started up outside my window . . . on this otherwise quiet, beautiful morning . . .


    1. Thanks for the comment James. Yes, it’s an ongoing job this change business! As for leaf blowers, if I was President of the World, they’d be the first thing to be banned, despite all my best attempts at equanimity!


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