Friday, June 19, 2009


How is your summer going? All ten days so far have been fantastic! It has to do with no homework, with time free for spending with my daughter in an unhurried fashion. This is a big change, a good change.

Also, I've been reading whatever I want to read. A neighbor gave me a book to read called Essential Writings by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk with a serious way with words.

"Practicing Buddhism is a clever way to enjoy life. Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it. All of us have the capacity of transforming neutral feelings into pleasant feelings, very pleasant feelings that can last a long time. This is what we practice during sitting and walking meditation. If you are happy, all of us will profit from it. Society will profit from it. All living beings will profit from it." (p.93)

Think about traffic for a moment. Not a pleasant thought, is it? But how about ways to transform the experience from unpleasant to, if not pleasant, than at least neutral? There are things we can do to make it so, instead of becoming enraged with something we cannot control.

I like to listen to books on cd, and that helps to give me something to look forward to when I'm in the car. Central Oregon is not the world's biggest traffic jam by any means, but there are still slow drivers and people who pull out in front of us. At times like these, I imagine that the driver has experienced loss. Maybe it's an illness or loss of a loved one, maybe they just lost their job and don't know what they're going to do. Whatever it is, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, and in doing so, create compassion for their annoying driving. It is not a completely selfless act. In doing so, I notice that I release the feelings of anger that easily well inside. Instead of feeling anger, I choose to feel compassion. It is this that stops me from tailgating or from passing the offending car and then pulling in front to express my irritation. This is healthier for everyone, not to mention safer.

This is not to say I am so enlightened and better than you. I didn't used to think this way AT ALL. I used to get mad, and I got even. It was temporarily satisfying to cut off a car who had just cut me off, but it wasn't safe and the feelings didn't last. I remember being a mess after the rapid succession of my brother's death, my father's death, and my own divorce. My mind was not on my driving, and I probably drove too slowly and pulled out in front of people left and right. I was suffering but the rest of the world had no idea. Once I realized this, I expanded that to how I had no idea what other people are experiencing. Duh, but it was pretty profound. If I had no idea, why did I respond to others with aggression and anger? It began to make no sense, and I realized I was putting out negative energy on top of negative energy, and I was ashamed. I might have caused another person pain in the guise of road rage. It was all a great big, unnecessary misunderstanding.

At times of suffering, the last thing anyone needs is hatefulness. Getting flipped the bird in return for an unthinking lane change. I'm grateful for the forgiveness of strangers, and so I try to give back. There is no way to know what another person is going through. Maybe they are just a jerk, and if they are then your compassion at their jerkiness means they get away with it. But maybe they are suffering greatly, and your compassion was sent out and acted as a bit of soothing balm to their painful day, for just a few seconds they had a reprieve. I think they should have the benefit of the doubt. Philo of Alexandria, an ancient philosopher said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

One of the most difficult things I have done is to realize how much time I have spent rushing my daughter instead of being with her. Going places - work, school, errands - are necessary to daily life. These are not bad things. What makes the difference is the way we handle each of these events. I have not always made the best use of patience.

I am grateful for the chance, every day, to try again; to get it right; to do better.
"Our lives are made of days and hours, and each hour is precious. Have we wasted our hours and our days? Are we wasting our lives? These are important questions. Practicing Buddhism is to be alive in each moment." (p.93)

I'm not a Buddhist, I'm Presbyterian (also known as the "frozen chosen"). I don't care much for rigid lines of categorization, so that if I define myself as a Protestant, that means that I do not study Catholic teachings, for example. I think there is much wisdom offered in our religious traditions and I don't see the point in fighting about it.

From road rage to religious tolerance, this blog defies definition!

I am also no optimistic, glass-half-full kind of pollyanna, but I do have hope for the best. Is this naive? Maybe. I used to care about that but I don't think it much matters. What matters more is that a little optimism is better than the alternative.

1 comment:

The Real Mother Hen said...

This is a very enlightening post. Too often I'm too caught up with life, you know, rushing through life, and it is really wonderful to read something like this that makes me stop and think...

I'm going to be a better person today because of this post.