This meme is something I’ve come across a few times in the last while, and it always makes me chuckle. Mainly I see myself and my own hypocrisy in it. In those moments when I have time to breathe and take a moment to consider my actions before I act, I try to root in the principles of kindness and compassion--qualities that I have always held in highest regard in others, and ones that I try to live up to as best I can.
But…get me behind the wheel when I have somewhere to be and all of a sudden everyone’s an idiot and the planet is populated by knuckle-draggers.
This contrast is funny because I can see how silly it is--I have become the very person I criticize. Honestly, over the last few years, I’ve had fewer incidents of actually becoming angry at others for their mistakes while driving. I used to hit my steering wheel, shout, swear (my kids called them “Mommy words,” for reference). With that said, my impulse reaction to get upset and mutter terrible names about people when someone’s driving scares me is still there.
Also, now that I’ve been practicing a while, I am more immediately remorseful for my angry words because they were not mindfully generated, and certainly not compassionate nor kind! My son was with me in one of my moments of regret for having said some things about a lady in an SUV and he looked at me, bewildered, and observed: “There’s no way she heard you--why would it matter?”
I tried my best to explain, failed to find the words, then also got to questioning myself--Does it matter?
Then a few days later, I came across these words as I was picking my way through one of the myriad books I am trying to work through:
“When we ask ourselves, ‘Does it matter?’ we can first look at the outer, more obvious results of our actions. But then we can go deeper by examining how we are affecting our own mind: Am I making an old habit more habitual? Am I strengthening propensities I’d like to weaken? When I’m on the verge of lying to save face, or manipulating a situation to go my way, where will that lead? Am I going in the direction of becoming a more deceitful person or a more guilty, self-denigrating person? How about when I experiment with practicing patience or generosity? How are my actions affecting my process of awakening? Where will they lead?”
– Pema Chödron, Welcoming the Unwelcome
These words helped me realize why I don’t like that impulse reaction that I have: My intent in my practice is to be mindful in all that I do. Using harsh words in fear or anger does nothing other than to perpetuate the idea of separating “me” from “them,” creating that false sense of duality that allows us to be violent in speech, action, and thought. Even if I do this in the privacy of my own car, unheard by the people who I perceived to be “knuckle-draggers,” the direction I go into is the one of separating us all from each other--at least in my mind. My intent is to cultivate my understanding of our interconnectedness--even my "small" impulsive reaction is a symptom of that remaining belief and thought pattern. To indulge it is to perpetuate it.
As I navigate the waters of wading through feelings of grief, anger, and disbelief over yet another tragic mass shooting so close to the one that recently took place in Buffalo, the “Does it matter?” question resonates. Does it matter how I think of the victims? Does it matter how I think of the people who perpetrate these shootings? Does it matter what I think of those who oppose gun legislation? Does it matter what words I choose to talk about what has been going on, and the people who don't share my view? Does it matter if I finally apply to become a U.S. citizen so that I can more fully participate in the election process? Does any of it matter, at all?
I remember some years when my answer to all of these types of questions would have been No. I’m too small, I don’t matter, I can’t make a difference on my own…"
I’m thankful for all the teachings that have pointed me in the direction of “Yes, it matters,” because it takes all of us to be the hummingbirds to put out the fire (thank you, Rev. Anwol and Ven. Wonji), and I am very much not alone--that "alone-ness" is an illusion I created in my own mind. The small steps I can take to participate in this phenomenal world more fully, do matter. Train my brain to be compassionate and kind--always--even when things happen quickly, in a frightening way, or perhaps, especially when they happen in that way.
So very grateful for all the teachers who help me see.
Much love to all.
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members