Because I am “early to bed, early to rise,” my day begins in the wee hours of the morning. I cherish this time: Prayer, meditation, kriya, creativity, clarity—all seem to live and thrive in the pre-dawn darkness.

Therefore, when this sacred time is somehow disturbed, I find myself tilting toward resentment. Even as I write this, I think that the person so easily teetered by a relatively minor disturbance must be truly out of balance. The issue, however, is one of expectation: a routine upset, depended-upon results unmet.

What I have learned to do is to regard early-morning disruptions as a spiritual challenge, sent to remind me that the esoteric practices I work with are the very things that prepare me for such events. So, I can pause, breathe, and give thanks that I have been given the teachings to guide myself calmly through these occasions.

This morning was a turning point, yet again. For the past few weeks, my elderly landlady, “Em” (who lives directly below me), has taken to moving furniture around during the heretofore serene hours of the morn–scraping and screeching as she pushes things around downstairs.

Before proceeding, I should say that as I have lived in this house for about 13 years, I am friendly with and fond of Em; she can be a tough cookie, but also one that crumbles easily. I have had many heart-to-heart talks with her about her abusive childhood, her time in a psychiatric center, and her love for her husband, who also used to live here. When he died a couple of years ago, Em sank into a deep depression for nearly a year, yet eventually she began to rise out of the bleak abyss.

At this point, she is 94 years old. Although she lives “alone” downstairs, she has an aide every morning, and is surrounded by a houseful of tenants who all know her and each other. Her two loyal, longtime handymen come two or three times a week to tend the garden and help with household chores. All in all, daily life in this household is fairly peaceful.

When Em’s now near-nightly routine of shifting chairs and tables (as I imagine they must be) became accompanied by her loud moans and groans, punctuated by small, panicked cries, I would listen for a moment that might signal I should go downstairs. But the restlessness and sound effects typically would diminish, and I could hear her moving with her walker back toward her bedroom.

Over the course of these past few weeks, I have been unpleasantly surprised by my immediate reaction to the goings-on beneath me: I would become extremely annoyed by the disturbance caused by Em. I would grumpily ask out loud, “What the heck are you doing down there?!” Or: “Go back to be, already!” These outbursts on my part succeeded only in exacerbating my discomfort: In addition to the external disturbance, my inner self was appalled by its negativity.

Finally, this morning, things shifted. Em’s movements and moans began around 1:00 a.m., and continued for nearly five hours. Now, it is just after 6, and I hear her coughing lightly from her bedroom. At about 5, I had gone down, feeling that after so many hours, it was finally time for me to check on her. She did not hear my knocks, so I returned upstairs.

It was at about 4 a.m., however, that something inside of me changed. I had been trying to maintain inner calm when the sounds started earlier than usual, then I allowed them to pass through me; unfortunately, that did not last, and I could feel resentment building. Yet instead of holding steady, the resentment disappeared quite suddenly; a stillness moved through me, even as Em’s movements increased. My inner course altered from annoyance to deeply felt compassion: My sense of disruption was and is nothing compared to Em’s. She is obviously uncomfortable and at her wit’s end, trying to make peace with a body and mind that give her none.

Of course, this has been the case throughout the previous weeks, and I do not know what caused me to see things differently this morning. Perhaps it was the amount of time that Em was awake and at war with an unnamed foe; perhaps it was the cumulative efforts on my part to overcome my ungenerous thoughts about the situation. Regardless of the reason, Kindess found me and reminded me that compassion moves in all directions. My heart opened to Em and her nighttime demons, and also to myself. Rather than berate myself for the negative slant of my reactions to another person’s suffering, I will consider this series of events the call to deepen my practices dedicated to non-judgment and selflessness.

As I finish writing this, all is quiet downstairs:

Let the day begin…

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