There’s a Taoist parable by Zhuangzi about a praying mantis in the woods. The praying mantis is about to eat a fly, but while its attention is on the fly, a bird swoops down to eat the praying mantis. Then, as the bird is about to kill the praying mantis, the bird is unable to see nearby a hunter aiming a bow and arrow at the bird. The hunter just so happens to be Zhuangzi himself. He is so focused on the bird that he doesn’t notice a game warden approaching behind him (Zhuangzi is on private property hunting illegally, I might add). Before releasing his arrow Zhuangzi pauses for a second, sees the warden in time, and then scampers away to safety.
PAUSE – COME UP WITH YOUR OWN INTERPRETATION OF THIS STORY BEFORE PROCEEDING, please
OK. My interpretation is that we all have a blind-spot. And that blind-spot gets a whole lot bigger when we’re focused on one thing. I have an example of this in my life, and though it doesn’t entail hunting birds in Ancient China, it still makes sense.
I have a bad habit of looking at people on their cell phones. ‘Looking’ is a nice word. I glare.
The people I’m referring to are not just anyone on a cellphone, but the ones who stumble around the sidewalk oblivious to their surroundings. Especially the ones with a kid with them they ignore or a dog they’re walking that they’re not really walking or just when the day is beautiful and they don’t notice it, like this one guy I saw so engrossed in his cell phone that he didn’t notice a humming bird hovering over his head.
I was excited the first day this winter below freezing because I thought it would stop people from walking and texting because their hands would be too cold and they’d have to wear gloves that made it impossible to text, but then I walked past a chalkboard sign in front of a store advertising “Texting Gloves” for sale. Somebody less judgmental (and more savvy) than me recognized a need and filled it. I on the other hand (pun intended) continued to burn in resentment, fixated on these texters like a praying mantis about to eat a fly… while I was riding my bike…
… BAM. I ran into a car! No, not really. But I almost did. It would have been a very painful lesson (and a better story)- but like Zuangzi I looked up just in time to brake. What happened was I was so pre-occupied with somebody else not being aware of their surroundings that I lost track of my surroundings. Simple enough. But the question still lingers- why do texters piss me off so much, anyway?
I have a few answers, but I’m more amazed that I’m even asking myself this question, because it puts me on the defensive. For the longest time I just took it for granted that they were idiots and deserved my silent ire- if not an outright confrontation. Actually, I fantasized about standing right in front of the woman walking her dog and saying HEY DON’T YOU REALIZE YOUR DOG DOESN’T KNOW WHERE THE FUCK IT’S GOING!? But I didn’t. And I still haven’t answered the question at hand: why do they piss me off?
THEORY- it’s human to recognize each other and when someone’s glued to their phone there’s no chance for mutual recognition- THEORY- there’s a thing in each of our brains called mirror neurons that allow us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes (fact) so that while they do something we ourselves imagine ourselves doing it even if we’re motionless. Mirror neurons are the reason we enjoy watching high-caliber athletes perform amazing feats of physiology, because we get a sense of their finesse. On the flip side watching someone hold onto a pile of Christmas presents awkwardly also triggers mirror neurons making us nervous and wobbly ourselves. Extend this principle to the texter, plodding along unawares, crouched over their cellphone, tense at the shoulders and neck, and we feel that same tightness and uncomfortably in ourselves, and want it to stop, yet can’t look away- THEORY- I feel bad for the neglected dogs and babies in strollers, I feel bad for them, the texters- THEORY – I think the world is an infinitely beautiful place from moment to moment whether it’s a humming bird or something mundane and that to not bear witness to this essential beauty is to miss out on a cosmic gift we get only one chance to enjoy – LAST THEORY- I simply enjoy feeling better than them.
As if I never stumble around texting; as if I never move in the world without grace; as if I don’t have blind spots; as if I don’t ignore the beauty in every moment. Of course I ignore the beauty. I got shit to do and it takes a lot of energy to pay attention to anything else.
Wrapping this up, if I can glean anything from today’s talk it’s this: the point isn’t to see everything, but to become aware of the fact that we don’t see. Over and over, again and again. What I could do, rather than glare at texters, is to stay present myself. And maybe guide them along by example…
But that’s my interpretation. Circle back and re-read the parable to see what resonates in you. Share below! Lennon said it best, ‘I’m not the only one (who has a resentment toward people on their phones)’.