"When unpleasant feelings fill the mind, the mind grumbles. It grumbles at anything in its path. It grumbles even if it knows better. I learned that lesson while swimming in Jerusalem.
"The pool where I swim in Sonoma County, California, is very orderly. People swim back and forth; they know about lane lines and about swimming laps. When I arrive to swim, I can insinuate myself easily into any one of those lanes. I pick out a line of swimmers that seems to be moving at my speed and get in. Then we all swim in long circles, forward and back. People stay in line.
"I spent a month in Jerusalem last year. As soon as I arrived, determined to continue to exercise, I jointed the YMCA. The next day, after changing into my suit in the dressing room, I emerged, towel in hand, and saw the pool for the first time. It was full of very large women in shower caps, zigging and zagging in all different directions. I got in gingerly and attempted to swim back and forth. Almost immediately, I ran into somebody. She got mad. I apologized, but I don't speak Hebrew very well. She spoke to me in rapid-fire language I didn't understand. She called the attention of the lifeguard, pointing me out to him with angry gestures. I felt humiliated. I decided I would swim with my face out of the water so I could see where I was going and avoid hitting people. Even when people saw me coming, they didn't move. They had conversations in the middle of the pool!
"I swam every day in Jerusalem, but I swam grimly, churning up irritable thoughts like 'They should put in lane lines,' 'They should give protocol instructions,' 'If these women want to talk they should get out of the pool and talk.' I swam back and forth fueled by righteous indignation. It wasn't pleasant. I wasn't happy.
"One day after swimming, while changing in the dressing room, I relaxed my internal diatribe long enough to listen to the women talking to each other. They spoke a combination of Russian, Yiddish, and a little Hebrew they were recent Russian immigrants. I looked at their faces and bodies older, more tired, more worn out than mine. Lots of varicose veins. They had lived through fifty years of Soviet regime and through the war before that. I suddenly thought, 'I am in a shower room full of naked Jewish women, and we are safe.' I was very happy that they were alive and well and swimming in the pool and at the Y and that I was there with them.
"I was also very happy and relieved by my change of heart. 'Whew,' I thought, 'now I'll be all finished with my irritable thoughts about these women, and I'll be able to swim peacefully in the pool with them.' I told my husband my revelation. 'Now I have my values straight,' I said. 'I love those women. They can swim however they want.'
"The next time I swam, the women zigged and zagged, and the irritable thoughts came back. When present circumstances are disappointing, aversion arises. That's just the way it is.
"Near the end of my stay in Jerusalem, I told the YMCA story to a group of students to whom I was teaching mediation. I told it because I thought I would be a good, local illustration of how peace of mind is available only if we are prepared to let go of expectations that lead to recrimination. One of the students corrected me. 'I think you did it wrong,' he said. 'You should have explained your situations to the lifeguard, and he would have taught the women to swim in lanes.'
"I think I must not have been teaching very clearly that evening. If I had been, my student would have understood that, even if the women had been swimming in lanes, the water was too warm. And the towels were too small. And too rough. As Gilda Radner very aptly put it in the title of her book, There's Always Something."