Friday, November 20, 2009

Permission to Become, or Shedding the Skin

I walked into my friend Paul's house this morning, and I was there for a total of five minutes before he told me a story that I immediately wanted to write about.

The Buddha was sitting with some of his students one day, and a man came by and spit on him. The Buddha's students were angry and incensed. "You can't do that! You can't spit on the Buddha!" they said. The Buddha did nothing, just continued to sit. The man went away.

The students were offended and angered by the disrespect the man had shown their sacred teacher. "Don't be so upset." The Buddha said. "The man didn't spit on me, he spit on his idea of me."

The next day, the man came back, crawling on his hands and knees and begging forgiveness. "Teacher, teacher..." he cried. The Buddha greeted him kindly. "You don't need to ask for forgiveness. You are not the same person as the man who spit on me yesterday."

I love this story. Its such a simple and beautiful way to show both sides of a situation we have all found ourselves in. We all are guilty of imposing our idea of someone on them.

There is a lesson on both sides of the beginning of the story: Let go of our tendency to be like the man, assuming something about the people around you. That person must be an attention whore, that person must be full of themselves, that person thinks they know everything, that person... these are all ideas about that person.

If you can let go of the mirror, that is, often times we become angry and inflamed when we meet someone who is a mirror to us, they show us what we wish we could be, or where we are lacking, or what we wish we could have, and that reflects our IDEA of our self worth back at us. We erroneously assume that we are less because of what this person has. But we probably don't know this person's whole story, and where they are rich in some areas, it is likely (unless they are a Buddha) they are poor in others. And the mirror they show us, of our lack, is an opportunity for us to become richer. To open to the lesson of how we can be more whole. If we can let go of the mirror as a negative reflection, let go of ego and assumption and just be, and see... oh, I could be more compassionate, as this person is, see how rich they are in this area of their life? We would be much happier, much less judgemental, much more open.

If we can be like the Buddha, and realize that the person who spits on us does it because they see us through a filter of their own suffering, we don't need to be hurt at all by it. If you attack me because I have found happiness or peace in my life, I can understand that you see my happiness as a threat to your own, and I can understand that when a person feels threatened, they act from the ego. I can understand that the man who spits on me does it because he is seeing me through the filter of his own lack. (Or perceived lack.)

And when the man comes back the next day, having realized that he erred (and they seldom do), he does what our egos all wish our enemies would do, he grovels at your feet and says he is sorry and venerates you. Rather than taking this as a huge boost to your ego, a validation of your life and success, be humble like the Buddha. Know that the person who has come to you has experienced a shift, has grown, evolved, let go of his concept of you and may be willing to see you as who you are. This person is brave, this person desires to connect. This person is the same as you, is on the same path as you, and deserves to be treated how you would like to be treated. With compassion. "Don't apologize. You aren't the same man who spit on me." And it is gone. There is no score to settle, there is no grudge, blame, or explanation. There is acceptance. And trust.

Be like the man who came back to the Buddha. Take a moment to set aside your ego and examine your interactions with others. Were you angry because you feel you lack? Were you frightened at what that means? Did you feel less? Did you feel your worth dissolve? Is it possible that this issue is coming from you, rather than being imposed on you by someone else? If you set aside your WISH. I wish it was different, I wish I had what they have, I wish I could just be done already, if you set aside your wish, and therefore your ego, is there a lesson you can learn? Usually there is. And its often a gentle lesson that is simply saying, Open yourself a little more, and things will come to you. Don't define your self worth by what you have and what you lack. Don't define your self worth at all. Just be. And you'll be fine.

I think of these lessons, and I realize that it is a story about the never ending becoming. Its permission for us to make a mistake, and get back up. It is permission to be grateful for what we do have, to feel fulfilled by what we have, not to desire what we don't have, and to give grace to those who are also trying to become. We all stumble down this path. Being willing to welcome your fellow travelers, warts and all, is a beautiful gift for both of you.


Liat said...

I love this post! It helps me remember how I can be better at work, where there is a tendency to point out the flaws of others so you look better. This of course is very damaging. Thank you!

Michael Stief said...

hey I love it when you hit the nail on the head. m