[This link (http://dharmapunxnyc.podbean.com/2013/05/27/brigthening-the-negative-mind/) takes you to a short talk given by Josh Korda, a practicing Buddhist based in New York. The gist is this: your brain was designed to be scared as hell in order to survive; however, because we’re the dominant species, we don’t need to be scared as hell, anymore. He also shares techniques for how to harness the positive in life. Basically, savor good experiences- because your brain is programed to forget them, and remember the miserable…]
This weekend I went to visit cousins in the suburbs. After dinner, I felt sluggish, so I decided to go on a walk.
Weird. What’s he doing- smoking a cigarette?
Nobody said that, but I could tell they thought a stroll- at night- was unusual. My little cousin asked if she could come along with her two friends. I said sure. She said that I have to protect them.
From what? There was sporadic rain fall, lightning. It was dark but there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of. The unknown, I guess. They kept saying somebody was going to call the cops on us.
I cringed at that: the hostile quality of the suburbs that pounces on anything outlandish. Something strange like a walk. I kept those thoughts to myself, pointing out an especially beautiful looking tree to my cousin and her friends, instead. Its shape was an expansive sphere, emanating from the core. For a minute we stood with the tree.
We were walking down the middle of the road. When the intermittent car came, we moved to the edge of the way. We had a dog with us. An old, fluffy white dog. It hadn’t a leash, running into yards to sniff and piss. We came to a cross-roads and kept going straight in order to make a big circle back home.
The dog dawdled way behind, when a car came around the bend. I jogged back and signaled to the car to stop so it wouldn’t hit the dog. Then I beckoned the dog off the road, but it wouldn’t budge. The minivan’s spotlights made it hard to see; its anxious engine changed frequencies.
The dog had a collar. I tried to grab it and bring it to the curb but it nipped me. That was strange- did it really try to bite me? I thought I’d be decisive and pick up the dog and carry it out of the way. I scooped its torso but it snarled and scraped my hand, threatening to bite harder. What the fuck.
A woman shouted from the car, “Is that your dog?” I replied, “It’s my cousin’s. It’s unfamiliar with me. Hold on.” I tried to move the dog again but the woman interrupted, with naked anger, “It’s not your dog!?” I tried to be precise in my response. “It’s our dog. But I’m visiting. It doesn’t know me that well so it won’t let me pick it up”. Now the woman yelled with even more anger, “What are you doing here!?”
My fight-or-flight kicked, minus the flight. I drew in a deep breath to say who the Fuck do you think you are to speak to me like that, I’m trying to get this dog out of your goddamned way so how bout you display a morsel of compassion and quit encapsulating all that is fucked with the suburbs in front of these little girls… but did not. Instead, I had the micro-realization that it wasn’t worth justifying myself to this woman, just as it wasn’t worth getting into a fight. I stood in silence. Then- Thank God- my cousin’s friend called the dog, it ran off the road, and the minivan tore past.
“Why was she so angry?” asked one of the girls. “She’s going to call the cops” said another. I didn’t know what to say. I was fuming, because I felt shame for not giving back the hostility the woman threw my way. As I steeped in remorse, anger, and self-pity, my cousin said, “Ben, you said you were going to protect us”.
Like a bolt of lightning I heard what she meant- that I was supposed to prevent encounters with threatening strangers- but interpreted it like this: I did protect them- from myself. My shadow self would’ve loved to shout vicious in self-righteous wrath at the woman in the minivan instead of swallowing my pride and letting it go. If I did that, I’d have given the girls just one more example of unnecessary anger and impatience. I quit my brooding and returned to the magic of the walk.
As we circled back to the house we saw a group of men sitting inside their garage around a table and a few bottles of whiskey. One of the girls said Hi, and one of the men regurgitated a few syllables that meant nothing. We walked on. Again, one of the girls said somebody was going to call the cops on us.
“Maybe we should call the cops on somebody- for being inside”, I said. That was a strange and cryptic thing to say to little women, and didn’t need to be said. What I was trying to get across to them was that where they lived wasn’t normal- despite its love of normalcy. Resentment. Hard to let go of. Even now.
Then, for the second time, my little cousin interrupted my pouting. “Ben, look at that tree!” The tree was old, immense. Its skin looked cut by a giant. The branches twisted this way and that, signaling they’d been through hell on their way up to heaven. The Ancient Tree made everything around it- other trees, homes, us- seem young and naive. “Good work, Linz.”
[I left that weekend remembering of the walk only the hostile woman in the car. But by writing this, I was shown how lucky it is that my cousin learned from me how to notice beautiful trees- instead of how to retaliate]