Saturday, November 8, 2014

on 'stink-eye' buddhism

My brother and I have a favorite phrase, borrowed from someplace, that describes that glare of disgust or loathing or hatred that someone can give to someone else.  We laughing refer to it as 'the stink-eye.' Well there used to be this guy who was quite generously offer me the stink-eye every time we met. It would be on my walk to or from work, along English Bay in Vancouver. This is one of the more beautiful walks I've ever been on in my life and I was fortunate that it was my route of commute on a daily basis.

This gentleman, for reasons completely unknown to me, would greet me with the stink-eye every time our paths crossed, which wasn't often, but often enough. It started to play on my mind. I would anticipate running into him and scenarios would come to life somewhere between my ears of imaginary conversations, more like confrontations, that we would have when we finally talked to each other. Of course I would skillfully and completely put him in his place during these fantasies, dominating him with my self-righteous wit.  But as I continued with my daily routine of walking along the very beautiful coastline, I came to realize that these fantasies were completely ruining my enjoyment of the time and the place. All around were opportunities to witness a leaf as is ran before the ocean breeze; dogs happily barking and racing along the sands and then turning to look expectantly at their human accompaniment, geese calling from formation as they skirted the skies, a mother bending to lift her child to her arms. Instead I was engaged in these waves of fictitious, concocted, disagreeable and self-generated illusion playing across the beachfront of my mind.

I finally came to the insight that this was not doing any good for me or for the gentleman who extended his stink-eye in my direction. Not only was it casting a dark shadow on my walks, but I felt it was subtly contributing to whatever ongoing negativies I has inspired in this man. So I decided to bring mindfulness and loving-kindness to the rescue. Whenever I found myself entertaining these imaginary confrontations with him I would note it. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. And I would return to an awareness of the present moment, mindfully walking, seeing, hearing, touching. I would return to the beauty that was all around me. By doing so I was replacing a thought pattern that was, in Buddhist terms, quite 'unskillful' and replacing it with one that was 'skillful.' In other words, I was replacing a thought pattern that was of absolutely no benefit to anyone with a thought pattern that was much more peaceful, quite, open and unconstricted.

The Buddha said something along the lines that one moment of mindfulness is worth lifetimes of heedless unawareness. He also advised us to meet anger with loving-kindness. So, whenever I noticed this person in the distance, I would do my best to extend loving-kindness toward him until he was no longer in sight. I also started doing this whenever the old unskillful thought patterns re-emerged in my mind. These efforts at loving-kindness also helped to transform my state of mind from one that was dark and downward spiralling to one that was lighter and more generous of heart. It was better from me and it was better for him.

These are simple applications of mindfulness and loving-kindness that can be applied in any number of ways. We all have patterns of thought that run around and around in our heads, patterns based on our own hurt and therefore on constrictedness, fear, and aversion. Patterns that no longer serve us. Become aware and come back to present moment, whether it's walking on a beach or waiting to be served in a cafe or driving during rush hour.  

We all have people who trigger our hurt and also inspire feelings of constrictedness, fear, and aversion. When we extend to them loving-kindness it loosens whatever hold or bond of negativity there is between us. These thoughts, these people become gifts in our lives, reminders to come back to the heart, to return to a truer knowing, to reclaim the better aspects of who we are.

Two simple and meaningful ways to bring mindfulness more into our lives.  Like silent bells, these opportunities can bring us back again and again to a more peaceful state of mind.Wherever.  Whenever.  Whatever.  Just give it a try.  See what happens.