I walked to work this morning in the usual self-protective mode; the one that operates with an alienated sense of self and thinks I am the most important person, and the world should cater to me and my needs. Two children slowed their walk in front of me, forcing me to slow my speed by an inconsequential amount. Immediately, I noticed my irritated reaction: “Ugh, these kids, would they just get out of my way. How annoying and inconsiderate of them. I’m trying to get to work.” These types of thoughts arise habitually, and I have frequently allowed them the power to warp my mood and experience of the world. This time, I caught the reaction almost simultaneously to its arising, and then I noticed the tendency for guilt and shame to ensue: “Gosh, I’m such a terrible person, how awful of me to react in this way towards these kids that are just trying to get to school.” The trouble with these emotions is that if overly identified with they can lead to a chronic sense of feeling badly about oneself. We might also unknowingly repress or deny such emotional reactions, which can lead to a host of destructive outcomes. As I walked away, I reflected on my mental image of the children I had just seen; it appeared to be an older brother holding his sister’s hand. They were wearing backpacks, suggesting they were on their way to school. The boy was holding something up to his face that could have been an ice pack, implying he may have been hurting in some way. As I detached from my typical self-protective mode, as well as from feelings of guilt and shame, I was able to feel my heart expanding for the kids. These two children are no less important than I am. I felt compassion arising for them; hoping that the boy’s possible injury he may have been icing heals quickly, and I acknowledged his apparent devotion to his duty of making sure he and his little sister get to school safely. It’s really not a big deal if I’m delayed a fraction of a second on my walk to work, and actually, crossing paths with these children has just as much power to bring love and joy into my day as to make me feel frustrated. It’s a matter of infusing wisdom and mindfulness into our lives so that we can consciously choose love and expansion over anger and shrinking into a small, separated sense of self.
In the foundational teaching of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, the first truth is that of suffering and the second illuminates the causes of suffering. The three poisons, ignorance of our true nature, attachment/clinging, and aversion/anger, are understood to be the roots of suffering. In my encounter with the children, my initial reaction was the result of an ignorant perception of myself – believing that I am a separate being that exists independently of everything else. This deluded view causes us to feel the need to cling to that which appears to bring pleasure and to resist that which seems to be unpleasant. The run in with the children initially felt irritating because they seemed to interfere with my desire for a smooth commute to work. However, when I widen the lens of my perception and illuminate my view with Truth, I am able to see that I do not exist independently of those children and I am no more important than they are. This helps me lessen the grip of needing everything to go smoothly and not be so averse to supposed obstacles that arise. Actually, the children’s slowing their walk in front of me was not the obstacle, but rather the anger that could have taken hold of my mind had I allowed it to.