Saturday, June 21, 2014

How do we find joy and peace?

I went shopping yesterday afternoon. On the way home I was driving in the right hand lane of two lanes, driving just over the upper edge of the speed limit because the traffic around me was moving at the same speed. I was approaching an intersection where I turn right. There is a dedicated lane for this which branches off some way ahead. I signalled my intention to turn before I reached the branch because the curve requires you to slow somewhat.

Suddenly I was passed by a driver who then cut me off very sharply, but at this point I reached the turn-off so I just veered off into the turn lane. The light was red and I had to wait for an opening in the oncoming traffic.

The driver who had cut me off was sitting at the light behind two or three other cars. The passenger, a young man hardly more than a teenager, rolled down his window and began screaming at me, gesticulating and making threatening gestures. My window was rolled up and the fan was on, so I didn't hear what he said, but his face said it clearly enough.

I was puzzled by his anger and its intensity. I had not caused them any delay. They had only just come up behind me before the driver passed me. There was an empty lane in which to pass, and 100 feet ahead of us there were already cars sitting at the red light.  Maybe the fact that I was able to turn and integrate into the cross traffic despite being cut off, while he still sat waiting for the light  to change irritated him, but when you drive you sometimes catch the light green, and sometimes it's red. 

But I had been upset by something just as silly earlier in the day, not as upset as he was, but enough to keep me stewing for a couple of hours. I find I'm quick to talk peace, but slow to practice it. My temper can be ignited in an instant, and if I allow it to erupt I may say and do things in anger which I deeply regret later. In this case I said nothing. I let the matter drop and walked away.

I have been practicing not to respond in anger to provocations that might have had me lashing out in times past. This can be a difficult practice, denying one's self the symbolic victory. Walking away from an argument without having to get in "the last word". The practice of peace often means waging an internal battle with yourself. So why bother? There's certainly satisfaction in telling someone who has their facts wrong and is defending their position in an obnoxious, even hurtful way that they are an idiot and don't know what they are talking about. But it doesn't bring you peace. The other person goes away angry, and after the momentary thrill of triumph wears off you feel the shame of not living up to your own standards.  

An 8th Century Buddhist master named Shantideva had plenty to say about the "do as I say, not as I do" approach to peace. He said these habitual patterns of aggression we practice are the source of constant suffering, our own as well as others, and if we continue in these habit patterns and allow them to rule our behaviour and thoughts we will never find joy and peace.

Aggression begets aggression. The only way to overcome hate and fear is through love. Shantideva had no trouble calling a spade a spade. He said that as long as we justify our own critical spirits and self-righteousness, joy and peace will always elude us. We may well point our fingers at "wrongdoers", but until we learn to deal with compassion with everyone, there will be no peace, in our hearts or in the world.  

How do you feel about it? What's the difference between preserving the peace and being a doormat?  Have you worked out a strategy for a peaceful life or do you just scream when you're angry and let the chips fall where they may? 

1 comment:

smm said...

I am not an angry person and mostly I just let it go as quickly as a I can. I don't care for stewing in the juice of my own self-righteous attitude and I try to stop myself as much as possible. It isn't easy.
I keep my anger in check and when I let it out it is sharp, fast and fierce. People are always taken aback.
When it comes to peoples words, actions or behaviours are hurtful that is when there is time for action and standing up for oneself and or others. No doormat inaction on those counts.

I liken it to forgiving but not forgetting.