Zooming Out

zooming outIt’s a rose! One of the last roses left now that the weather has turned bitterly cold. I am on 135th street an Broadway on my way home from school, and there, in the midst of the cold and chaos of the city is this spot of pink. It’s easy to get caught by the beauty of that last pink rose. It’s rare, and the only bit of this color, and it will be gone soon. But I wonder if I should step back and see more of the picture. I think that while I’m focusing on that rose, I’m missing some pretty remarkable stuff.

We place value judgements on the things we encounter in our daily lives. Roses are beautiful, thorns are painful, traffic is annoying. Scarce things are sought after and plentiful things are thought of as unimportant. But when we ignore some things and focus on others, what are we saying about our lives? And are we doing ourselves a service by ignoring part of our world?

That pink rose is beautiful and a small miracle. But so is the bush that it grows on, and the traffic island that harbors that rose, with its benches, and even the traffic that carries people across the island of Manhattan every day so we can encounter each other again and again. Tomorrow, that rose will be gone, but all those people I’m ignoring today will still be here, so maybe I should pay attention now.

Be Kind

be kind

A lot of things piss me off. Seriously. It’s really quite easy for me to see what’s wrong with the world around me. Trash on the street, loud headphones, people shouting, horns blaring, whatever. Yesterday I was getting on a bus and I encountered a discarded takeout container on the floor with bits of food strewn about. “Classy,” I said aloud, to nobody in particular, but that simple word was conveyed with as much venom as I could give it. A bit passive-aggressive, but I think I made it clear to whoever might be there to witness just what I thought of whoever thought littering food on my bus was an ok thing to do. As I sat down, a young man glared at me from across the aisle. I don’t know if he had anything to do with the mess, but I found myself caught in the fantasy that it was his mess and he was pissed with me for being a bitch about it. He had a very bad day, I told myself, and his eventual emotional meltdown involved having problems with a food takeaway. All he wanted was some food at the end of a hard day, and even that had proven to be problematic. And now some bitchy lady was on his case about it. I asked myself what it would take for me to wind up responsible for spilled abandoned food on a city bus, and I came to the conclusion that it would be the end of a very hard day. In that moment I realized: there is no situation in which I can insult another person.

I don’t care how big an asshole somebody is. I don’t care if they did what they did on purpose. There is just no reason not to exercise compassion, the understanding that people do not act in a vacuum. Nobody is just a jerk. I may never know why people act the way they do; it simply doesn’t matter.

It’s difficult to see this, isn’t it? I get stuck in my irritation. I know what’s right, and I don’t see why people can’t just do what they should do, and without explanation it can become impossible to have compassion. But true compassion doesn’t expect explanations. True compassion just knows that people are hurting and is willing to accept that the world is messy.

Anyway, today is Sakyong Mipham’s birthday, and he is a lot more eloquent on the subject of compassion than I will ever be.