There was a man who felt constantly overwhelmed by the ‘ten thousand things’ that Lao Tse said – and all meditators know – rush round the mind. Some of these things were of very little importance but could nonetheless be very irritating. He would feel a surge of disproportionate anger when, for example, his cell phone ran out of charge in the middle of a conversation or even when he dropped his soap on the floor during his morning shower and had to get his head wet before he normally did in his washing routine. When a waiter forgot what he had ordered and had to come back after a minute and ask him to repeat it he would feel a flood of anger and sadness. He wasn’t sure where the sadness came from but he really didn’t like to see how much anger he had.
He was detached enough to diagnose the modern condition of stress. He knew he was still a fairly nice person. He would kindly help people who were lost in a train station but a few minutes later could feel like pushing another person over if they pushed rudely in front of him. He didn’t know what to do.
He decided to attend to the small details of life and ensure that they were perfect. This way he would reduce the occasions of stress. He had calculated how much time a week he spent correcting the spelling in email or text messages he wrote. That made him feel his life was leaking away in endless irritating trivia. It reminded him of a leaking pipe in his bathroom he kept forgetting to get fixed. He called the plumber who said he was too busy but would call him back and that only added to the man’s feeling that everything was collapsing. 
He watched the pictures of the destruction of cities and homes in Ukraine and felt something like this was happening inside his mind. And then he blamed himself for comparing something so monumentally tragic with his own petty concerns. That guilt and feeling of silliness only added to his seeing life as an unstoppably expanding ball of stress.
He decided to be extra mindful about all occasions where he felt stress and its curiously deep sadness. He added many other small things to his more careful texting. His repertoire of perfection grew every day. ‘If I can achieve control over these details’, he thought, ‘I will feel better about the big issues’.
For a while this seemed to work and he felt a better level of calm and mastery. Then one morning, when he was to leave early for a very important meeting, he overslept and missed it because he had forgotten to set his alarm. He felt the forces of chaos he had been trying to resist surge through his defences and he felt he was no longer in charge of himself. He knew this was disproportionate but what he felt was what he felt.
Then in the worst moment of his feeling of powerlessness and failure, it came to him. In a moment of clarity, like glimpsing blue sky through storm-clouds, he saw what he should do. And, I am glad to tell, you he did it.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2022