I was trying to find a parking spot on the USF campus, which is like trying to find pants I can afford at Lululemon. Wedged in a tight lane on a gravel, pot-holed lot, I got into an awkward driving kerfuffle. As an SUV pulled out I waved the driver forward, which he didn’t like. As he drove by he rolled his window down and said, “Just wait a minute, you moron.”
Every single day in this fair country of ours, millions of middle fingers get jabbed skyward in bursts of highway hotheadedness. Strings of vibrant fuck-you-mother-fuckering-shit-sharks get screamed into the steering wheel. Terrible violence results from some of these moments of anger. And so, some guy calling me a moron may be the Sesame Street version of road rage. Still, considering I’m about as sensitive as a hangnail, the insult bore into me.
I was dumbfounded when he said it, the open mouth of his car window less than three feet from mine, the clear, shockingly articulate sound of his voice as moron sailed across the space between us. He didn’t look at me as he spoke, and drove off right afterward. I wouldn’t have said anything back anyway, I was too stunned. The two syllables sucker-punched me. Mor-on.
Even though I was insulted—a ubiquitous, nondescript insult at that—by a complete stranger, it hurt. I told you, I’m sensitive. I cry during Battlestar Gallactica and at Snow White & The Huntsman, both when a ginger dwarf died (spoiler alert, whoops) and at Kristen Stewart’s bad acting. And so I cried, loudly, into my steering wheel in the USF parking lot. I was rattled, as if ball-peen hammers were clanking up and down my ribcage.
Then, enter l’esprit des escalier: I envisioned ten different insults I could have, damnit should have, hurled back into his car, made him as upset as he made me. Asshole! Pathetic! Or even better, I dreamed myself up with some cool-headed, wise remark to make him feel guilty about his weak quickening into anger. WWBD: What would Buddha do?
I spent a lot of time in the past, reimagining the whole scene over and over again, replaying each detail. And it kept me tangled up in anxiety.
Did I mention I was going to campus to meditate with a couple friends?
A mentor, brilliant writer, and friend of mine organized a meditation group to meet once a week in an unused classroom for an hour. After tearfest 2012 in my Nissan, I went to the meditation meetup in a windowless room. I tried to calm the heat rising through my body, the word moron pulsing through me. I wasn’t a moron! I like to read books! I even use the word ubiquitous in my blog posts! Didn’t this total stranger know that, damnit? Fuck you, stranger! I hope you get into a car accident on your way home. Shit, did I just say that?
Tears ran down my face during meditation. Then some shaking happened.
This is one of the many things meditation is good for. Feeling things through or, in my case, crying them through.
And during meditation , I remembered a piece of wisdom I’d heard from a recorded Alan Watts lecture (that badass, self-proclaimed ‘philosophical entertainer’ from the 60s). To paraphrase, he
retold the story of a Zen master who saw god in everyone he met. I don’t mean god in the Judeo-Christian sense, of course. Clearly we are not all white dudes with long white beards. But according to this Zen master’s philosophy, if we are all manifestations of some collective consciousness, then every single person—from the bag boy at the grocery store to your momma—is part of this dynamic energy. And so the Zen master would laugh and end up saying to himself on many days, “My, god, how you’ve come up today.” How god-energy-universe-whatever reveals itself to us is often quite difficult, because life is difficult.
Another teacher of mine once said we have the most to learn from the difficult people in our lives, not our loved ones. It is these annoying coworkers, these demanding bosses, these vicious strangers who let us practice our compassion.
Real nice in theory, I know. Quite different in practice, when the stranger has just insulted you (me). My teacher Kelsang Chokyan, a Buddhist monk, says when we ask for more tolerance, more patience, more compassion, we are given challenging situations. This is the way we learn. And so, to god driving the SUV, thanks. You may just have made me a little more aware of the mechanics of my mind and heart.