I woke up early this morning, imagining how productive I would be before the phone started ringing and all the loud demands of the day interrupted my concentration. I no longer have small children at home – you know, the ones with that unerring instinct about when you wake up early, expecting some free (or me) time and get up early as well – so I felt justified in anticipating this quiet time.

But I made a classic mistake. (Is it classic if a result of relatively new technology?!) I checked my emails before beginning to write/think. There was one annoying email in my inbox and my day was thrown off.

The good news is that it led to contemplation. The bad news is that my day was thrown off. Obviously the first thing I contemplated was not checking my emails first thing in the morning! Yet the compulsion is so strong. My phone is right beside my bed. I barely have to open my eyes…

But I'm going to stop this habit (really, I am) because, even though there isn't always a frustrating note there, it is nevertheless not a peaceful way to start my day. It doesn't put the spiritual component first.

Defenses Down

The second thing I contemplated was why I deemed the email "annoying." It wasn't an ad hominem attack (there have been those), it wasn't even critical (there have been those). It was just a request for information that I didn't want to reveal. It felt invasive, intruding on my space.

There is a lot of intrusion these days but that doesn't explain my annoyance. I could just say no. (Remember Nancy Reagan?!) But I let it get personal. I let it get inside. And that was the more important insight.

No one can "make" you mad or "make" you happy.

I shouldn't react like that. As I'm always telling my kids, my students, and anyone else who will listen, our reactions are within our control. No one can "make" you mad or "make" you happy. They can do mean things or kind things, but our response is in our hands.

So too with this email. It was only annoying because I deemed it so. It was only annoying because I reacted with annoyance. I didn't have to react that way. I could have been calm and matter-of-fact. I could have even just gone back to bed!

This was a helpful wake-up call for me (no pun intended). In allowing emails to frustrate me, I am giving these inanimate, elusive, undefined objects a power over my life and my emotions. How foolish!

In the future, I need to be a bit more awake before checking emails. Our defenses are down and our emotions are harder to control when we are tired or sleep-deprived. After a cup of coffee, a shower (and my morning prayers if I follow the dictates of my first insight), the world looks different. I can open my inbox in a calmer and more rational mood. I can choose when and how to respond.

At the very least, I've got to stop checking emails before being fully awake!