This morning, I was celebrating the beauty of the day by taking a walk. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the breeze was comfortable; it was, in all senses, perfection.
I was basking in my joy, feeling warm, peaceful, and content.
When I noticed a couple of bikers approaching on the sidewalk, I welcomed the opportunity to share my joy with a cheerful greeting.
As the first passed, I beamed a smile and said, “Hello!”
No response. Oooook…
I tried the second. Again, just a blank stare.
Feeling blown off, I mumbled under my breath, “Ugh. Jerks.”
With that judgment, I felt a definite shift in my mental, emotional, and physical presence. I went from blissful and radiant to slightly agitated.
For about 20 seconds, I fueled that statement in my mind: “Would it have killed them to say hi? Or smile? Or even just nod? I was just trying to be nice…” I wasn’t totally pissed, but admittedly a little miffed.
Suddenly, I moved out of my monkey-mind and into awareness. I felt another shift, and found myself asking, “Are they jerks?”
I was so quick to judge, to assign praise and blame. I was kind and they were rude; I said hello and they ignored me. Me versus them, right versus wrong.
So often in life, it seems that we are quick to take this stance, to give into this dualistic thinking. Why?
We do it for so many reasons. We do it to feel better, to justify our emotions, to victimize ourselves and have a good story to tell others. But encompassing all of these reasons is
another: we do it so we know where we stand, to find resolution.
Labeling “them” versus “me,” “wrong” versus “right,” it lets us know exactly where we are. We are right; they are wrong – no gray area there.
At first thought, it seems that there is no alternative. I mean, that’s what we do, right? We judge the world around us, categorize it, in order to make sense of it. Is there another way?
This event and so many others have shown me that there is. There’s the middle way.
Ah yes, the middle way – one of the most popular aspects of Buddhist teachings.
This is the place of nonjudgment, of just being…and we can experience it if we just reject praise and blame, and accept the moment for what it is.
…Sounds like a load of crap, right?
Well, I don’t think so anymore. But I’ll admit, when I first heard the idea, that was my initial reaction. It sounded like a nice idea in theory, but something that was unattainable.
And it’s not attainable – not through just reading about it. Only by experiencing, by being aware, did I become the middle way.
In that instant of awareness I had with the bikers, I had no ground to stand on. No podium from which I could stand and yell, “But they were rude!” I saw that, given a glance through an awakened eye, the situation was different.
I saw it for what it was: I was walking, I said hello to passing bikers…and that’s it.
I was also able to reassess my judgment, because realistically, how accurate could it be? Are they rude just because they “ignored” a stranger? Or perhaps they didn’t ignore me at all – it’s possible that they didn’t hear me.
It was only through the place of groundlessness that I was able to make this shift and touch base with my mind. From this place, I could really see what had transpired – both within and without myself. I was able to let go of the minor suffering I had caused myself and return to my place of peace.
What I learned:
- The feeling of shifting into awareness. When I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop and re-evaluate, to short-circuit the story of injustice that I was fueling in my mind. I returned to the present.
- This was made possible by my regular meditation practice. As the days go on, I realize just how powerfully my practice is impacting my daily life. It’s increasing my mindfulness like you wouldn’t believe – from noticing the leaves on the trees, to my crazy reaction to a couple of bikers.
- Accepting groundlessness. When I let go of the idea that they were wrong and I was right, I was the middle way.
I guess the middle way’s not such hooey after all.
Peace, love and a steaming cup of Zen,