Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Fruits Of Practice

Sometimes people ask me how practice has changed me, and the answer I usually give is that I am a better driver these days. I know I am being mildly facetious by saying this, but it does feel like an area where I can see a concrete difference. Every morning after breakfast when I sit in my room with my coffee and try to read the good dharma, I am treated to the blowing of horns at the four-way at Page and Laguna, as well as occasional wheel squealing and other audible signs of impatience. Now of course I do not have to commute to work, and the fourteen years that I did (1988 - 2002 if you are keeping score), I did it almost exclusively by bike. And I have had some very frustrating experiences in cars in recent months - a half-hour diversion in Mill Valley due to flooding; another half-hour waiting to get through the toll booths on the Bay Bridge, and closer to home, fifteen minutes to cover the four blocks that separate Zen Center from the freeway. What I notice though, in both these situations, and in other interactions with traffic - no, please, you merge first - is that I am palpably more patient and equanimous than I used to be. Please note that this does not usually apply when I am on a bike, where the balance of power is radically tipped against me, and I can react pretty instantaneously and strongly to drivers who I feel have come too close, too fast, simply ignored my presence on their road or done something else to make me feel unsafe. Even so, sometimes I have been able to have an uncharged conversation with someone who has done such a thing, and when I haven't been able to partake in a free and frank exchange of views, I make a point of balancing the negativity around such incidents by acknowledging, again either in communication with the driver or simply to myself, all the times when I have received courteous and thoughtful behaviour from people behind the wheel. And these do, almost always, outnumber the bad incidents, though the latter tend to stick in the mind and the body longer.

Apart from the driving aspect, I find it hard to quantify any changes in the way I behave and interact with people. I know there are changes. I can think back and feel how much less self-protective I am in many situations; this might come as a surprise to some people I haven't known so long, but then I am still an introvert, and not always inclined to be sociable.
There was also something Kyogen Carlson wrote in his book 'Zen in the American Grain' which really resonated with my upbringing: "Many of our feelings come from karmic conditioning, like the tendency to sarcasm. It is a deeply significant Bodhisattva act not to pass on the unfortunate karma we have inherited from the limitless past...we can see that at every moment, as we choose either to train or indulge ourselves, we are choosing to transmit something".
I grew up in a deeply judgmental environment. It wasn't the done thing to blow your own trumpet - indeed it was infra dig to even point out that you owned a trumpet; conversely it was perfectly permissible to point out that someone else did not have a trumpet and was therefore greatly inadequate, leaving the inference hanging. So these days, even though cutting comments can still spring readily to mind in many circumstances, they don't have the same power for me; I don't find it hard to dismiss them rather than articulate them, and with that I can be present with people, and  allow them to be who they are, which always feels more connecting and less separating.


Linda Atkins said...

Nice post! I recognized myself in what you said about reacting faster when on a bicycle; sometimes I reflect that while the frightening or annoying incidents stand out in strong relief, for every one of those, there were hundreds of drivers who were perfectly courteous.
P. S. I do own a trumpet. :-)

Sandy's witterings said...

Driving's the one area of life where everyone could do with a little extra calm.
Personally, I've been on foot for most of the last 6 years and haven't been stuck in a pedestrian traffic jam once. On my vehicle delays, not being in charge of the pedals or the round steery thing, I've just been able to close my eyes and pick up a little extra sleep.

Shundo said...

Linda - Americans are less backward in coming forward, in my experience.

Sandy - don't you ever get caught in those endless scrums on the tube where no-one can get in or out of a station? It has happened to me a couple of times on recent visits. It's true that on a train, getting stuck isn't always so stressful, as you experienced a few weeks ago. I love getting about by train myself.

TalesNTypos said...

Nice post. :)

Sierra said...

good point about recalling the times drivers have been thoughtful. In those moments it's easy to get one sided in our view of another so it's helpful to balance out that energy. And great point about karmic conditioning. Learning about someone's past can definitely increase a sense of connection,compassion and patience with that person.