[From 13 July 2009]
Hey friends! Hope you had a fabulous weekend.
The recent exchange with Oh Please, here on the Twitter thread, reminded me of a wonderful story that I’ve been wanting to share with y’all for a long time. Paraphrased from my meditation teacher, S. N. Goenka, who heard or read it somewhere else, it’s been the single most helpful lesson I’ve learned from him so far, when it comes to dealing with everyday situations. I hope you might find it useful, too!
At the time of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, not far from his ashram there lived an old brahmin and his family.
The younger members of the family, having studied with the Buddha, one by one began maintaining daily meditation practices in the home — silently sitting for one hour in the morning, one hour in the evening, observing respiration.
The old brahmin was not a fan. In fact, he was quite upset about it.
“What a #@*%ing lazy family I have!” he fumed. “All they do is sit around all day, #@*%ing breathing. This is the fault of that crazy Gotama character. Meddling in the lives of decent families, ruining households. This cannot continue. I’ll have to pay a visit to his ashram myself and see to it that I open his #@*%ing skull.” And so the old brahmin took a club and set out for the Buddha’s meditation center.
When he arrived, he found the main hall, where the Buddha happened to be alone.
“Mother#@*%er!” shouted the brahmin, crossing the silent hall. Closer and closer he came, shouting and abusing.
The Buddha smiled. “Old man, you seem very upset! Come, sit, let’s talk about what’s troubling you.”
Scowling, the brahmin thought to himself, “I know this Buddha fellow is very clever. If he gets me talking, I’ll get distracted from my purpose and I won’t be able to open his skull. I’d better carry on.” And so he kept on, coming closer and closer, shouting and abusing louder and louder.
“Okay, old man, okay — just permit me one question,” said Buddha, still smiling. “Do you ever have guests coming to your house?”
“Well of course,” snapped the brahmin. “I’m a very important man, many guests come to my house — what’s it to you?”
“And when they come, are some of them bringing presents?”
“Yeah, yeah, all the time people bring presents. What’s it to you?”
“And let’s say,” the Buddha asked, “you don’t accept the presents? Then what happens to them?”
“Easy,” said the brahmin. “They stay with the fool who brought them. What’s it—”
“Old man,” said the Buddha gently, still smiling, “you have come like a guest to my place, and you have brought me all these presents of anger and abuse. But I have not accepted them! They are with you! I can’t suffer for you.”
The brahmin stopped, silent. And just like that, a veil was lifted from his eyes. He realized that in his anger, he was making himself unhappy.
“Buddha, sir…” he marveled, eyes brightening. “How did you learn that? How did you learn to not accept presents from people?”
“Sit, old man, sit!” the Buddha laughed. “Observe respiration.”
Haha, hoo. I love this story. See, it used to happen to me that whenever someone was snarky, I felt compelled to respond with snark. When someone was angry, it made me angry. But by simply remembering that I am the one in charge of my own attitude, and — as the old saying goes — no one can make me feel any kinda way unless I let them, it became easier and easier for me to step back from tension, rather than getting sucked into it. If someone is in a bad mood, I don’t need to join them. This doesn’t mean I ignore them completely, of course — but I just look for the good parts in what they’re saying, and don’t take the snark personally.
As you can imagine, this technique proved particularly useful when working in a tiny, stuffy kitchen with near-strangers, cooking on a tight schedule for dozens of angsty meditators working through their deep dark shit. If someone told me to chop carrots in a bossy tone, I just smiled and reached for a knife. (Happily.) And if I happened to take my stress out on someone else, they were far more likely to let it roll off their shoulders, knowingly forgiving me right away. In an environment like that, even when tension built to a point where we needed to address it directly, we were able to approach the situation as calmly, openly, generously, and unbegrudgingly as possible. Hell’s Kitchen, this was not.
It seems to me that online interactions are an especially important place to avoid accepting presents of negativity.
Just think how much quicker we could extinguish flame wars.
Thanks Ms K, that was helpful.