Life of Carmen, Politics & Activism, Uncategorized

The Gauntlet

So I am walking down the Drive (as per usual) and I come upon one of of those little knots of Italian guys, shooting the shit in front of a café. The way they do this is, they line up on both sides of the sidewalk, keeping up a lively conversation. People walking on the sidewalk have  a choice: to walk through them, or to walk around them, off the sidewalk, and sometimes right off the curb. It always makes me feel kind of prickly.

Now men usually don’t even register this – they just walk through. But women, well, we know. If we walk through them, there is a way to do it – fast, with eyes cast down in front, avoiding eye contact. Otherwise – well, you don’t usually get harassed, but you most certainly get noticed. So I was walking down, preparing to skirt around them, and all of a sudden i thought, no, fuck it – i’m walking through them, and i’m looking up.

So I did – I just marched on. From both sides I got hailed – hey there! nice day eh? how’s it going! And I was determined to give it back, so I responded, something like I usually say –”oh you know, it’s going! up and down and sideways!”. The guys laughed, not in an unfriendly way – and one of them said to me, “oh you, you’re always walking down the street smiling, it’s that hippie stuff!” Which made me laugh, because that is true – the hippie stuff makes me smile. And also, I felt proud and oddly honoured, that he recognized me. And then, to be recognized as one who is always smiling, well – could be worse.

And that little interaction, which felt like a scene from a New York sitcom, did in fact keep me smiling for days.

When I told a male friend about the incident he said angrily, “oh those macho guys, i wish they wouldn’t do that, i hate them.” I flapped my hand and said “oh, no, i love those guys!”.  On reflection, I doubt that I wouldn’t have said that before, but it just came out that way. And it was true, what I felt, in that moment – I did love those irritating guys. Interestingly, my Lo Jong slogan for meditation that week was “be grateful to everyone”.  And it struck me, how before i confronted them, i only thought of them as annoying guys – and now I really was grateful to them, for pushing me to acknowledge them and face them – not face them down, but simply, face them. To respond instead of avoiding or reacting. I guess that is a way to walk the gauntlet.



2 Comments on “The Gauntlet

  1. And not a minute after i posted that blog someone sent me this:

    Pema Chodron
    Be Grateful to Everyone

    The slogan ‘Be grateful to everyone’ is about making peace with the aspects of ourselves that we have rejected. Through doing that, we also make peace with the people we dislike. More to the point, being around people we dislike is often a catalyst for making friends with ourselves. Thus, “Be grateful to everyone.”
    If we were to make a list of people we don’t like – people we find obnoxious, threatening, or worthy of contempt – we would find out a lot about those aspects of ourselves that we can’t face. If we were to come up with one word about each of the troublemakers in our lives, we would find ourselves with a list of descriptions of our own rejected qualities, which we project onto the outside world. The people who repel us unwittingly show the aspects of ourselves that we find unacceptable, which otherwise we can’t see. In traditional teachings on lojong it is put another way: other people trigger the karma that we haven’t worked out. They mirror us and give us the chance to befriend all of that ancient stuff that we carry around like a backpack full of boulders.

    “Be grateful to everyone” is getting at a complete change of attitude. This slogan is not wishy-washy and naive. It does not mean that if you’re mugged on the street you should smile knowingly and say “Oh, I should be grateful for this” before losing consciousness. This slogan actually gets at the guts of how we perfect ignorance through avoidance, not knowing we’re eating poison, not knowing that we’re putting another layer of protection over our heart, not seeing the whole thing.

    “Be grateful to everyone” means that all situations teach you, and often it’s the tough ones that teach you the best. There may be a Juan or Juanita in your life, and Juan or Juanita is the one who gets you going. They’re the ones who don’t go away: your mother, your husband, your wife, your lover, your child, the person that you have to work with every single day, part of the situation you can’t escape. There’s no way that someone else can tell you exactly what to do, because you’re the only one who knows where it’s torturing you, where your relationship with Juan or Juanita is getting into your guts.

    When the great Buddhist teacher Atisha went to Tibet… he was told the people of Tibet were very good-natured, earthy, flexible, and open; he decided they wouldn’t be irritating enough to push his buttons. So he brought along with him a mean-tempered, ornery Bengali tea boy. He felt that was the only way he could stay awake. The Tibetans like to tell the story that, when he got to Tibet, he realized that he need not have brought his tea boy: the people there were not as pleasant as he had been told.

    In our own lives, the Bengali tea boys are the people who, when you let them through the front door of your house, go right down to the basement where you store the things you’d rather not deal with, pick out one of them, bring it to you, and say “Is this yours?”

  2. All right Carmen. That’s such an amazing story. How often do we make a little chihuahua into a big bad rotweiller. Good for you for just holding your head up and saying woof right back to them.

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