I grabbed the edges of the six-foot metal basket, bent my knees, leaned forward, and adjusted my alignment as if setting up a pool shot.
The basket probably weighed over 1000 pounds. Maybe close to 2000. I gave it a little push to test which way it rolled, stepped to the left six inches, bent down, and pushed again.
It was spring of 2014. I’d started a job at a textile warehouse. The company supplied dozens – maybe hundreds – of businesses in the Denver area with clean uniforms, soap, brooms, towels, and floor mats. That day, I was folding freshly-washed floor mats. Each basket held hundreds of them.
As I pushed the basket, its movement was imperceptible, like an oil tanker rumbling to life.
Then it rolled, slow but unstoppable, until it clanged against an immovable object – the hydraulic lift system.
I jogged to the other side of the hydraulic lift, pressed a button, and air hissed as the hydraulic lift sputtered and shook like a hungover giant sitting up in his bed. The metal basket swung up and tipped toward me, revealing its innards. Hundreds of black floor mats were piled inside like the world’s biggest noodle dish.
The basket rose higher, tipped farther and, as it reached the top, I wondered, as I always did, if something in the lift would break and the basket would fall on me, crushing my body. But the basket lurched to a stop, as it always did.
A couple of the mats flopped downward, inviting themselves to get grabbed. I pulled one free, unfurled it on the metal desk station, folded it, turned my body left to scan it, and turned left again to toss the folded mat into a rack.
I repeated this for 10+ hours.
The mats were always wriggled together in the basket. Some of them were two feet by three feet. Others were three feet by five feet. And others were three feet by ten feet. Those last ones were trouble. You’d spot the tail of one as it hung out the top of the basket, tantalizing you, and when you pulled, it slid a couple feet farther out, like you were pulling a giant tissue out of a box. Then it stopped. You yank harder. Maybe it gives a couple inches before getting stuck. The mats around it shift and twist.
You pull harder, straining your arms. It’s not like pulling a tissue anymore. Now it’s like tug-of-war with a suspension bridge cable.
Congratulations: all that pulling just tightened the world’s biggest knot.
The workers at that job called those mats the snakes. Sometimes, when you pull them, they slither to you. Other times, they coil tighter, and you get pissed and pull more. You take your anger out on the snake. But it just recruits other mats to tighten and resist you. Maybe you can yank hard enough that it pulls free, but you burn yourself out – a bad idea when you’re only two hours into a 10+ hour shift. That’s why the workers warned to never get in a fight with the snake. Don’t make it personal. Find another mat to pull on – a mat that will slip into your hands.
My teacher of Chinese Energetic Medicine and Christian Mysticism, Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson, reminds his students that, when it comes to cause and effect in the spirit realm, “It’s not personal.” Certain behaviors and actions will have certain outcomes. But it’s hard to remember that, especially when you’re hit with a setback that upsets you.
When I pulled against a snake mat and it got stuck, I got upset.
Some deranged part of my brain decided to punish the snake mat.
I’d show it who’s boss. Resistance is futile. I will pull you out of this basket whether you like it or not.
I forgot my job was to unload the entire basket as quickly as possible – it didn’t matter if one mat resisted and I needed to switch to another. Instead, I needed to prove I was right. The snake mat needed to come out of that basket and it was wrong for resisting.
If I were stupid enough, I wrenched my lower back, tugging and tugging until I finally ripped the mat out. My bicep and forearm muscles would burn and ache.
The mat didn’t care. It wasn’t personal.
Getting upset won’t help. Neither will trying harder. When you gnash your teeth and silently – or not so silently – rage against something, you dump your emotional energy into a bottomless pit.
It’s easy to see this with tugging on mats. But it’s not so easy to see it with your relationships, your finances, or your health.
What snakes are you trying to pull in your life, just because you’re pissed?
Because you want to show how right you are? Where have you made it personal with something, or someone, that doesn’t care (or even know) about your feelings?
When you argue with someone, you’re pulling on a snake.
Try arguing with someone about politics on social media. If, after your brilliant jabs and constant badgering, they respond, “Hey, you know what? You’re right. I’ve changed my beliefs,” then let me know, because I’ll strap on my ice skates and enjoy some skating on a frozen lake in hell.
When you try to reform a bad employee, you’re pulling on a snake.
You waste effort when you try to change what they should be changing about themselves. Find someone else.
When you argue with your spouse, you’re pulling on a snake. You’re trying to prove yourself right instead of build a more harmonious relationship where you can both thrive.
When you’re trying to get in better shape and start to hate your body, you’re pulling on a snake.
The stress will increase your hormone cortisol, which can interfere with your sleep and make it tougher to exercise and burn fat. If you hate your body, you might be more tempted to cover yourself and stay inside, losing opportunities to get active and enjoy some sun.
As my wife says, “You can’t hate your body into something you’ll love.”
Instead of making it personal, remember how complex and unique your body is. Changing it is just as much solving a puzzle as pushing yourself. I’d be arrogant to call this easy. But, if you want to get in better shape and improve your health, it’ll happen the quickest and the easiest when you’re not raging against your body.
Once I learned my lesson about the snake mats, I grabbed one during a shift, pulled, and felt the familiar resistance.
“Fine,” I said. Then I let it go. I grabbed a mat in a different part of the basket, tugged, and it spilled into my hands. Later, after I’d unloaded a bunch more, I returned to the snake and it slipped right out. Ha! If tugging on a stuck mat sent my rage boiling, outsmarting it made me feel like a winner.
The next time you feel like you have to keep arguing over something or you have to keep trying to change someone’s behavior, drop it and move to something else.
If my words can’t motivate you, then watch the ending to the movie Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
Indiana Jones hangs for his life, reaching for a goblet once used by Christ. The only thing preventing him from tumbling into an inky black abyss is his dad, played by Sean Connery, who holds one of his arms.
Indiana Jones reaches farther. He can almost grab the goblet. His other hand starts to slip from his dad’s grasp.
His dad, who’d referred to Indiana Jones derisively as “Junior” throughout the movie and, presumably, throughout his life, says to his son, “Indiana?”
Indiana Jones turns back to face his dad.
“Indiana? Let it go.”