Thoughts On… A Week of Self Determination

“I’ve started to realise that everyone’s afraid. From the people who speed past red lights to people who complain endlessly. Scared of not having enough, scared of not being enough. Scared of loneliness, scared of isolation. Scared of death, of running out of time. Scared of suffering, scared of rejection. And in this way we are all exactly the same. The sort of masks we wear are different – the possibility for these is endless because everyone’s experience is different in a thousand ways. But underneath it all, we are all the same. And we are all scared.”

This is an excerpt from my journal this week. The whole “everyone’s the same” thing is a cliché, granted, but I started to understand it for myself in my own way this week. On the way back from my pharmacy work placement on Monday, I was waiting for the lights to change so I could cross the road. Just as they were turning red, a car sped past, tailgating the vehicle in front. As I watched it race up the road, I thought about why the driver felt compelled to do that. Why risk breaking the law and injuring a pedestrian? I concluded that they must’ve been feeling some unrest or urgency, impatience or fear of being late. Then I imagined how someone would drive if they were feeling at peace. Surely approaching a red light would be no big deal and they’d slow down accordingly. I’m aware I’m getting a bit deep into a pretty trivial incident; but I’m trying to illustrate that for perhaps the first time, I started to feel compassion for a stranger who, if anything, had inconvenienced and almost injured me.

My first intention for this week was seeing the tenderness and vulnerability in others. It honestly does help when people around you are acting out. It helps you to distance yourself from this feeling of being “slighted” or “wronged” and see the behaviour as an expression of their own suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh has a great quote about this:

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

At work on Saturday, I had a bit of a run in with the controlling team leader I mentioned in my last post. It was nothing serious but he handled it as if it were life or death. I’d made six single espressos for a table and was carrying them out on a tray when I heard him say: “Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa, wait wait wait!” and I saw him beckoning me with his hand in a patronising way. I watched his hand and his body language and wondered why he felt the need to be so condescending. He said to me that the espressos weren’t full enough and I explained that they were single espressos, not double. For whatever reason, he didn’t understand and told me to put another espresso in each of the cups. I’ve worked in a coffee shop before and knew this was wrong (it would also be more expensive) so I sought a second opinion from the assistant manager. She said that yes, the espressos were fine and I proceeded to take them to the table. After I’d come back behind the bar, the team leader actually apologised to my surprise, saying he didn’t know that single espressos were supposed to look like that. I had to hide my shock to be honest because I really didn’t expect him to admit he was wrong. Earlier on in that shift, he’d come in to the bar with his girlfriend to have lunch and I was surprised at his tenderness with her. He honestly seemed more interested than she did, wrapping his arms around her while she was looking at her phone. It kind of reminded me of myself because I’m generally really affectionate in relationships, maybe too much sometimes. I also know how it feels to not have that affection reciprocated so in that moment, I saw myself in him.

My second intention this week was to continue with my loving-kindness exercise. I did do this exercise at work that day in the bathroom went I was feeling overwhelmed (what is it about bathrooms that is so peaceful??). But what was hardest about my shift in the bar this weekend was the customers and I forgot to include them in my compassionate practice. Or perhaps I was too irritated to even consider it. It was rugby weekend so it was packed the whole day and I was working 12.5 hours. I don’t know if it’s relevant but the majority of the customers were French and a staggering amount of them were rude. Maybe it was the language barrier, maybe it was the culture barrier but my God was that shift difficult. After 12 hours of people singing national anthems at the top of their lungs (and ignoring us when we told them to quiet down), people being demanding and arrogant in general and having to constantly repeat myself, I was exhausted. Trying to get them out of the bar at the end of the night was an impossible task. I don’t think they understood the concept of “drinking-up time” and that after those 15 minutes were up, they had to leave – regardless of whether they had drinks left or not. The more strict we got, the more they mocked us and when I shouted at them to leave because the bar had closed twenty minutes ago, they mocked me in girly voices and I was absolutely humiliated. If you’re a young woman working in a bar with difficult men, what it comes down to is that, if they had to, they could have you on the ground in a second so they will not respect your authority or anything you say. And the bar where I work has no door staff so in a nutshell that shift sucked. When I finally got home I was knackered and wanted to go straight to bed but the feeling of being humiliated was haunting me and I knew I had to meditate. The only way I could view the situation to make myself feel better was to consider that maybe the French men felt they were being talked down to by a young woman and didn’t want to show any sign of submissiveness in front of their friends. Alcohol was also an obvious factor in their behaviour. I’m glad I was steadfast enough with my bodhichitta practice to meditate at a difficult time.

My last intention, being “kind, gentle and steadfast” is something I feel I did pretty well this week but there were also many interactions with others when I could’ve been kinder so I plan to carry this intention over to next week. This week has mainly taught me the importance of curiosity and looking deeper when things get difficult, rather than quickly writing people off when I don’t understand them. The latter is an easier option and it’s most people’s natural reaction because they think it will shield them from pain but Pema Chödrön explains that this is not the case:

“…when we harden our heart against anyone, we hurt ourselves.” – The Places That Scare You

Thanks so much for reading! I’ll be back with a new post next week. 🙂

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx

4 thoughts on “Thoughts On… A Week of Self Determination

  1. oneblacktree says:

    There is so much truth and wisdom in this post. You’re so right that trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt by writing people off only causes us more suffering. I loved the examples you used. It’s an ongoing challenge, but the more we can stay open, the more we see others’ vulnerability and fear (humanness) rather than just what they’re doing to us. Thank you for sharing this, it was a great reminder for me this week 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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