This morning as I drove to work, I found myself behind a car with a bunch of bumper stickers that on their face, pretty much proclaimed the vehicle owner’s political bent. One of the ‘messages’ combined religion and politics into one snarky message that, without naming a single person, made it clear exactly whom they were addressing. As I often do, I immediately decided I disliked the person behind the wheel. I even contemplated driving up alongside the car to get a glimpse of my new nemesis as though that was going to seal my suspicions about the person’s true nature. Ironically, this event served as a lesson in compassion. I forced myself to stop forming conclusions about how this person would feel about me or my friends or my vocation. And it was hard. I wanted to dislike him or her solely for what they displayed on the outside of their car. Granted, what we display to the world often says a lot about what we feel inside. One doesn’t have to be a Nobel Prize winner to know that members of the Westboro Baptist church who picket everything from funerals to religious services, hate many things but most prominently, ‘the gays.’
I’m not a bumper sticker person, myself. I don’t like to disfigure my car and I hold no real desire to express something to the world that must be interpreted in a matter of minutes by someone in a motorized cage behind me. Bumper stickers can be misinterpreted, especially if they are trying to convey a message subtly about a subject that begs for a broader perspective. I’m embarrassed to say that I draw pretty clear conclusions about people based on how they adorn their modes of transportation and I suppose that is the point of putting a message on your bumper that basically says, “I believe this and if you don’t agree, you are wrong.”
So, this morning I imagined myself meeting the person in the car in front of me and having a civilized conversation about politics and religion and tried to steer myself into appreciating their humanity. I focused on having compassion for someone despite our differences. And I thought it was apropos of what I have learned from Sharon Salzberg and in my own journey down this spiritual path. It’s ultimately about seeing the commonality not the difference.
I woke up this morning, rolled over and came face to face with a puppy nose and my first thought was, “It doesn’t really get any better than this.” I hope that when I sit, the look upon my face is as placid and peaceful as that of a sleeping person or animal. It is the most vulnerable we can be – no opportunity for pretense or posturing – just pure innocence. Whenever I start to become irritated by someone, I try and imagine them in one of two states; as an infant or asleep. In those incarnations, there is no room for animosity and I can easily find compassion if needed or indifference if necessary.
If we look at the faces of those deep in meditation, there is a profound grace and contentment despite what may be swirling below the surface. What a wonderful state to aspire to and what an incredible journey to get there.
There has been a fascinating conversation going on at The Daily Dish about ‘catcalling’ and it’s influence on women (and some men.) This link references the last in the series of posts but it is worth reading back through the previous entries. In particular, I was struck but this piece by a reader of the Dish:
“You struck a nerve with this one, as I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, “That’s disgusting.” We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.
The lightbulb went off. “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.” The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.”But,” I continued. “As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.”
The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked.
“So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.”
As I read the posts, I was surprised to feel the rush of memories of my own experiences as a young teen and what struck me was how my memory wasn’t of anger, but of fear. And one could argue that the fear wasn’t rational – I wasn’t in a darkened alley or parking garage – it was broad daylight, but the discomfort was overwhelmingly real. It happened mostly when I was a teenager, shortly after I began to ‘blossom’ as they say. It was startling, disarming and ultimately left more of an impression than I realized until I took that walk down memory lane while reading these posts. Although it continued after I moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, the last straw for me happened in Italy. With my family on a crowded bus in Rome, I endured what we in the business refer to as ‘frottage.’ You know the drill; some creep helplessly ‘crammed’ into you by virtue of a crowded bus, has no other options but to rub his crotch against you for the duration of the ride. Keep in mind, this was Italy in the 70’s. There was nothing to be done. But that was it for me.
When I moved to Seattle, I quickly adopted the look for feministy leaning women with a ‘y.’ Cargo pants and plaid flannel shirts. And that was before I realized I was gay. In hindsight, I think it was my unconscious effort to steel myself against the comments from strange men on the street. It was kind of like cotton kryptonite, if you will. And for the most part, it worked. Now I see my niece-in-laws and how they dress and how they hold themselves and I am so proud of them. Woe be to the idiot who says the wrong thing to them on the street. He’s likely to be tasting his nuggets by the time they are done with him.
And lastly, I was reminded of a conversation with a male friend about his experience in an elevator of his new apartment building in a largely gay area of Seattle. He recounted how uncomfortable he was being propositioned daily (he’s not gay) and I just laughed at him. The look on his face belied his confusion. I simply said, “Now you know what it feels like to be a woman.”
And it felt so, well, vindicating.
Birds at 4:30 in the morning.
The sun sneaking up over the horizon before my eyes open.
Trees putting on their Sunday best.
New growth struggling up through the still stiff soil.
Raindrops just a tad warmer but drops nonetheless.
The promise of sun.
Pollen. Damnable pollen.
Sounding like Kermit the Frog.
Kind of looking like Kermit the Frog.
This is what I love about dogs. Well, one of the many things I love about them. Pure, unadulterated joy. Curiosity that knows no bounds. Like children, but without the potential for purposeful heartache.
We should aspire to be more like these lovely souls.
I had every intention to sit this morning and then I did something I never do; I forgot to set my alarm. Aside from being annoying and jarring, forgetting to do something I routinely do every night before I get into bed, had the potential to set my day off on the wrong foot. Routine saves me. It gives me a sense of control over those things that we do mindlessly every day. I put my keys, my watch, my badge, my ID card, my gun, in the same place every day. Nothing is going to move without human intervention. And in the morning, I pick them up like I do every day and head to work. But I often find that if I leave one little thing out of the order of things, something else will fall out.
The lesson I take from this is that I have replaced mindfulness with routine. Instead of being present when I set down my keys or set my alarm, I’ve counted on my subconscious to kick in and do it for me. It’s a little daunting to step outside that frame of reference, to thumb my nose at doing things the same way day in and day out. But it’s necessary. Without mindfulness, our lives become mindless. We become complacent and lose the ability to find joy in the uncommon place. I’m going to try and be less routine and more spontaneous. Let’s see where that takes me.
What do you do ‘routinely’ that you can try to change and replace with mindful action?
I’ve been pondering the whole idea of working with difficult emotions over the last couple of days. I guess I’m a little behind the curve with the book but that’s how I roll…
I am one of those people who have always managed to distract myself from difficult feelings and emotions. Not that I don’t acknowledge them – I just don’t dwell on them. And I think that’s a good thing to a certain extent except if the ‘not dwelling’ part is really more about trying to ignore them. That’s not so good.
I’ve been trying to practice just being with feelings and not working hard to replace that sensation with something that feels good. Every now and then (and thankfully it really is very rare that I feel this way), I will just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. It’s like I should know why I’m pissed off but I don’t even know what I’m angry about. And nothing makes me madder than not knowing why I’m mad.
I used to spend a lot of time pushing the nagging feeling away, trying to think of something that made me feel better. Now, I try to stay with the emotion, roll around in it and not fight it. It’s not as fun as being ‘happy’ all of the time, but I’ve developed the mantra “resistance it futile” and it seems to be working for me.
Happy is great. Happy for a reason is even better.
There is a story in Sharon Salzberg’s book Real Happiness about children learning about the importance about ‘taking a moment’ before acting on difficult emotions. How wonderful would it be if this became a part of the curriculum in every school in this nation. It seems we value ‘quick thinking and action’ and we celebrate people who can counter criticism deftly with a witty comeback. But we rarely celebrate the person who can turn away and deflect harsh words with kindness. And teaching children how to know the difference “suggests the possibility of finding the gap between a trigger event and our usual conditioned response to it, and of using that pause to collect ourselves and change our response.” *
In my line of work, I see the results of ‘not taking a moment’ all of the time. It can be as (relatively) benign as someone flipping the bird to another driver on the freeway or as horrible as the violence of a homicide. And in almost all of those situations, the moment was there to be taken but the opportunity was lost.
We only have a limited amount of time on this earth but we have a limitless ability to pause. I think that’s what we are learning here.
*Sharon Salzberg Real Happiness pg 107
Turbo the Wonder Cat…Pausing
I’ve become a little obsessed lately with the whole concept of ‘truth.’ In part, it is because I am constantly surprised at what some people define as ‘truthful’ speech. Not right speech, although truth should certainly be a part of that, but speech that is genuinely truthful. I’ve noticed it mostly around politics and politicians. In this age of 24-hour media, there is no paucity of video and audio evidence of practically everything said or done in the presence of a camera. And yet, faced with that evidence many people will shrug and smile, knowing that someone, somewhere will still believe the lie. There doesn’t even seem to be any shame about the fact that the veracity of any claim can easily be tested. I mean, even my dogs seem to show at least a modicum of shame when I come home and they’ve ‘accidently’ eaten all of the cat food or pooped by the door.
I’m not speaking about shame in the negative context that so many of us have learned from society. In my opinion, that’s not shame as much as it is non-conformity to some bizarre and unrealistic standard. I’m talking about standing in front of a microphone and making statements that are just completely untrue even despite evidence to the contrary.
There was an article recently in the New York Times about whether or not reporters have an ethical obligation to not only report what is said, but to fact check that statement and correct it. Oftentimes, papers run a side bar as a fact checking function. I just wish those who handle talking points for politicians would stop trying to shade the truth and just give their bosses the truth. And if the truth hurts your candidate, talk about something that doesn’t.
Being truthful about everything and practicing right speech is harder than you think. Is it always advisable to tell your best friend that her pants make her butt look big? Everytime? Some of the time? When is it ok to skirt around the truth? Can we possibly know the infinite number of reverberations that extend from telling a lie?
I always come back to my dogs. They are incapable of lying. Of course, they are incapable of talking, too. But when I look into their eyes, I see only innocence, presence and the truth.
On this day, I strive to be truthful to myself first and foremost. A true self can never be fact checked.