THE SCRABBLE TO GET THERE
A Bodhisattva is a being who is able to reach nirvana, but defers this in order to stick around to help suffering beings on their path. The Bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their aim of attaining buddhahood for the sake of all beings.
It has been a month of traveling, with the restrictions lifting and the vaccination in order. Two weeks in Southern California with my family, a week in New York with my dear mentor and friends, and to Nebraska for more visiting.
Airports have lost their charm, at least for the time being. It seems as if everyone is discombobulated. Humans have forgotten their easy flow of being, and there is a kind of uptight scrabbling and agitation that sets everything on edge. People have been cooped up in their own spaces, getting their demands met in every moment, and I guess they’ve forgotten how to comport themselves with strangers. Not every impulse gets met immediately when you’re outside of your household, and people seem to have forgotten this as they bully their way to the counter or cut everyone off in traffic.
I recognize that this is just my experience, and maybe it is that my nerves are tender, and that my needs are used to getting met, and how dare someone cut in front of me! So it’s all relative.
Add this to the fact that airline personnel seem to be in the same state of chaos, with delays and all kinds of goofiness, and I will say, for the moment, the miracle of air travel has lost its romanticism.
I was watching myself during the whole ordeal of my trip to New York, making my way through crowds of forcefully intent folks. I was listening to the running dialogue in my mind, and it wasn’t very pleasant. For the lockdown of the pandemic I had been cultivating an evenness of mind, the light of the ‘awakening mind,’ which is often an examination of that which rises into the space of stillness within me. Observing the negative as it rises in presence, and allowing it to go.
Then, I am walking through the airport and my inner voice is calling people names when they push in front of me, when the gate agent is rude, when a child is screaming and running around causing more chaos. I remember Ram Dass saying, if you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family for a weekend. This family of humanity here, they can really get a rise out of me.
When I find myself sending out such negative vitriol, at a certain point I recognize that this is really an attack on myself. Other people are an illusion, in a way. I don’t know for sure that anything outside of myself exists. That’s a whole other conversation, but ultimately, the negativity within me is My negativity. It is generated by me. It is cultivated by me. The object of the negativity is only a perception and a need for people to behave as I would order them to behave for my benefit.
There is a kind of echo that comes back to me when I direct a negative thought externally, and that echo is a splash-back of suffering, all for me.
Tune into the physical experience of calling someone a name, and you’ll see what I mean. Pick someone you dislike, and in the silence of the room around you, berate them aloud. You might feel, in your body, a sinking sensation as the words hang in the air, or maybe a weight in your belly, or maybe an agitation, or a million other responses that your body gives when you have expelled this negativity. It doesn’t make you feel good.
It certainly didn’t make me feel good as I was walking through the airport, ticked off at everyone. I started thinking of the Dalai Lama, and his message of compassion for others. I started thinking about feeling compassion for those around me, and it felt impossible. That made me feel even worse.
Then, I remembered the echo of the suffering, and that the person who really needed compassion was Clem. She was subjecting herself to a lot of suffering, and why? Because people weren’t behaving as they were supposed to? Actually, it was because she wasn’t behaving as she was ‘supposed’ to. She was being a grouchy child, angry at herself for allowing everyone to rile her up.
It begins with compassion for the self, always. There is so much work to do to love this reactive being. Only when I understand my own patterns can I even begin to believe that I am capable of that love for others. I notice the ways I am cruel to myself. How can I possibly extend balance into the world when the only object I am sure of – Clem – is the target of such animosity?
I fell into an internal mantra that quieted my nervous system and allowed me to still the mind. By giving the mind the phrase to chant, it circumvented the tirade, and immediately I felt more at ease. People were probably no different than they had always been. We were all going somewhere, and we were all scrabbling to get there first. My breath settled. When I got on the airplane, I closed my eyes and dropped my awareness into my heart, into that open awareness into which things rise and fall. Certain emotions and weighted thoughts would rise up, and I would feel them as they passed through and released.
Maybe I should pay attention to the ways I treat myself kindly or unkindly. How do I take care of the physical form, to its benefit or not? When the body says it’s tired, do I rest? When the mind says it is frustrated, do I give the frustration space? When I’m sad or angry, do I find ways to avoid the feelings, or do I allow them to rise and dissipate?
And what of the vow of the bodhisattva, turned toward the self? It is possible to be generous in my vulnerable moments, to relax into the structure of a disciplined life, to be ever patient with my struggles, to allow the simplicity of effort, to sit in meditation and rest in open awareness, and to recover the wisdom of the heart that meets me whenever I look.
When I opened my eyes on the plane, it was morning in the clouds, glorious, majestic morning, with all the colors and shapes of heaven. Maybe the magic of air travel will never leave me, no matter the rocky take-off to get flying.
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