I suffered the misfortune of sitting next to an extremely inconsiderate man on the train on Sunday. I was subjected to 2 hours of having my leg felt and the paper snapped and wafted in my face by the most irritating elbow wielding person I’ve ever sat next to. I think he was trying to get me to move. He had his wife and child with him (at least I think it was his child, I don’t think I saw him make eye contact once).
When he started tapping the chair I meant to say “please stop tapping” but what came out was “for fuck’s sake” – whoops. Should have said something before I came to the boil. Me bad man. Me swear in front of the children of the inconsiderate and self righteous. I’m sure there’s a spiritual message there. I know there is. Maybe he has Tourette’s and I’m really in the wrong. It was like he was trying to pick a fight and was’t even aware of it. I hope that he’s not in any position of power or one day someone that works for him will pee in his coffee, or do something even worse!
Thing is, it’s two days later and I’m still feeling the karmic shock wave of my anger. Anger does this to me more often than I would like to admit. I did’t sleep properly on Sunday and had this boiling anger thing on Monday evening. I could’t believe that someone could be so selfish, and have so little self awareness, it was extraordinary. It was’t arrogance: he just did’t have a clue that invading a total stranger’s personal space and noisily flicking a newspaper every 15 seconds or so could be seen as an arrogant and aggressive, in fact downright rude. It was like sitting next to a toddler who needed a nappy change. Really bizarre.
So ok, I’m a Buddhist, by definition a pacifist and someone who will not follow (or at least try not to follow) emotionally destructive paths. So how do I work with this anger and the irrational wave of hatred (it was that strong) that kept creeping up on me? I finally worked out the shape of it on Tuesday morning. In the Tibetan tradition there is a meditation technique called Tong Len, that translates as “sending and taking” or “exchanging self and other”. I am not a qualified teacher and will not explain it here, but the essence of the practice is to imagine yourself into various people, usually starting with loved ones, and draw their suffering and pain into you as you breathe in and out – transforming it and taking it away from them. Then you gradually change the focus to people unknown to you and finally to your enemies or people who have hurt you. Go and get instruction from a qualified teacher if you want to try it – quite deliberately I have not given enough information here – you would’t give a child matches or let it play with electrical wires. My community’s website is here.
It’s important to stress that Buddhists see no difference between self and other; that all suffering comes from this fundamental misunderstanding (other being everything, not just people). You see something outside you, you start dividing things up into like/dislike/don’t care, you see yourself as separate from these things, and suffering follows from it because these “external” things apparently control how you feel and think (again this is simplified, but I hope correct). Ignorance makes us see the other; pushing and pulling makes us angry and confused, suffering is the result. For me meditation practice is about trying to relax the tightness of this spiritual knot and undo it by seeing and feeling the the world properly, viscerally, and without any sense of a barrier (because there is’t one). It can’t be forced – the more you push the more things push back.
(Yes, Star Wars fans, Yoda says it, kind of: Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. He misses out the beginning (for a Buddhist): Fear comes from ignorance, from the false concept of self and other – the split making you afraid).
So this bloke is just another process spinning in the empty void like I am, the result of an endless chain of causes and conditions that go back to beginningless time and result in another deluded self hiding in a frail human body. He has no intention of hurting me and my feelings should not be changed by what he does. He can’t help his spiritual ignorance, limited self awareness and narrow view that does’t encompass total strangers like me.
I did’t do the practice, just thought about exchanging myself – one process for another – with him. I thought myself into his head, but kept my critical facilities. Then I realised other people don’t exist for him, so why should he show them any courtesy? This is probably overgeneralising, but the nub of it feels right. The guy must be quite broken in his emotional life, and probably is’t even aware of it. So the arrogance is actually an inability to empathise or relate, a fear that feels like an electric shock, the poor sod. On consideration I feel sorry for him, deeply sad that I did’t find something constructive to say that might have shaken him out of his distorted world view and woken him a little. I’m also scared for him: if he carries on winding people up without even knowing it you know it can’t end well, it could end extremely badly, and he wo’t even know why.
So what I learned (again) is that you can’t win because there is nothing to win. But maybe you can grow a little if you are’t afraid of the pain. And the guy who could’t look people in the eye and was scared of everything, who was afraid to be happy, and comes across as very arrogant when really he’s afraid? That was me about ten years ago. So I can’t be critical. Still is me when I’m tired or not being mindful.
Next time, I will try to overwhelm whoever it is with gentleness, kindness and a little humour before I come to the boil. At least I know I’m broken.
Oh, and move my seat, even if the train is full. If he wants both seats let him have them – there’s more difficult and useful battles to have. Stubbornness does’t help either, but that’s another essay all of its own.