Sharon Salzberg is a NY Times best-selling author and world-renowned Buddhist meditation expert. Check out a couple of her titles, available on Amazon, Lovingkindness, and Real Happiness in 28 Days.
In a small filler piece in an old “O” magazine Sharon began by describing an uncomfortable confrontation she observed between a man and a woman during a train trip to New York City. In the tableau the man became more and more agitated at a woman who was engaged in a loud cell phone conversation. The man finally exploded, yelling at the woman, “You are making too much noise!”
Observing the scene Sharon reflected, “A saying I once heard came into my mind, ‘The problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.’
It takes strong insight and often a good deal of courage to break away from our habitual ways of looking at things, to be able to respond from a different place. Imagine if we dropped our need to be right, our easy perpetuation of what we’re used to, our urge to go along with what others think, and instead, tried to practice what the Buddha taught: ‘Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love.’
Shouting to drown out someone else’s noise, returning belligerence for belligerence may be automatic, but it tires us out. Rigidly categorizing people as good or bad or right or wrong, helps us feel secure; yet relating in that way doesn’t allow us to really connect to anyone, and we actually feel alone.
Risking a new level of ‘seeing’ enables us to try out new behaviors and find new ways to communicate that convey our feelings without damaging ourselves, or those around us.
That would kick off an enormous adventure of consciousness–a readiness to step into new terrain, redefine power, see patience as strength rather than as resignation. Instead of yelling at the woman on the train, the man might have made his request before his anger built to unmanageable proportions and he saw her only as an irritant, not as a person. He might have asked before insisting and spoken before shouting, just as he might like to be spoken to himself.”
As her fellow train riders settled down, Salzberg continues, “but we see elements of that ride every day; frustration, carelessness, an effort to be in control, rage, fear–AND the chance to be different. Can we “see” it all and seize the chance to operate from new levels of thinking?
Even in horrible circumstances, we have that opportunity–and the prospect for meaningful change. I saw it after the metro bombing in London in July 2005, when like most people, my initial response was sorrow for the lives lost and some anxiety about getting on a subway in New York. This was all natural and appropriate, but limited by ‘us versus them’ thinking.
Willa, the 7-year-old daughter of a friend had another perspective. On being told what had happened, her eyes filled with tears, her mother wrote me, and she said, ‘Mom, we should say a prayer.’ As she and her mother held hands, Willa asked to go first. Her mother was stunned to hear Willa begin with, ‘May the bad guys remember the love in their hearts.’
Hearing that, my own heart leaped to another level altogether.”
Sharon’s insight is so simple, so straight forward, yet not so easy for me, or many others to embrace and implement into our daily lives, but I’m gonna try.
It is counterproductive to indulge in the US vs THEM thinking. One person is not better than any other, nor does any person or group have a lock on the truth. We must face our prejudices and work to minimize them.
Think about this “walking in the other guy’s shoes” and trying to “see” situations from a new perspective. First, I resolve to try to submerge my typical first reaction and think before I speak. I know that is a seemingly small goal, but I think it is a good place for me to start. Secondly, I promise to give a rattle before I am screaming mad. It is not polite to not say anything while on a slow boil. I’ve decided I should at least give the other guy some warning. How about you, are you ready to seize a chance at a new way to respond to personal interactions?
Have a great weekend.
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