Maybe some people aren't assholes . . .

My Buddhist life is starting to come together again. I had let the practice slide, then began to feel I missed it, but struggled to get it back. Out on the road, its hard to maintain anything, but recently, thankfully, I've been able to quietly sustain. It feels like I'm in tune with the world again.

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self,
To study the self is to forget the self,
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand dharmas”
- Master Dogen Zenji

Our teacher at the Grand Rapids Zen Center and BuddhistTemple reminded us in a recent dharma talk, that many people forget Dogen's first “study the self” part and try to jump right to the “forget the self” part without doing the necessary work. With my meditation practice back on track, I'm learning things about myself again. So much nonsense gets cooked up inside the human head; mine especially.

There are very few people in my life that get under my skin. I've always taken some thin comfort in that there were so few people who bothered me. I must be an alright guy; I get along with almost everybody. The first stage of my learning came a couple years ago when somehow I realized that 50% of my issues with these people were my reaction to the situation. A time came that I was going to be stuck spending a weekend with one of those people. Luckily there were to be plenty of other people around. I decided to just let them be and not react, even if I thought they were being an ass. It actually worked and the weekend went more smoothly than expected. I was kind of proud of myself. However, I never did the hard work to think about my half of the issues.

Now it may be that some people really are assholes. I might even be right that you can change your own reaction to that kind of person, but I needed to dig a little deeper. These bothersome people are a small group, but they have occupied an inordinate amount of my time – my brain time. These people are so bad [uh huh …] that I would dream up scenarios about future confrontation. Because I knew what they were going to say [ridiculous] and I wanted to be prepared with my rebuttal [sad, and ridiculous]. I was preparing for battle. Given the right prep work, I would smash them into submission with my powerful words [sad, really damn sad].

Sitting on my cushion and peaking into my life, I've been amazed to find anger. Hey wait, I'm a happy guy, right? A joker. What's up with this? The anger usually showed up around these particular people, but it was coming from somewhere else. It was coming from inside me. I stayed with that, teasing at it like a kid poking at a campfire with a stick – watching it burn down.

My perception of this stuff finally settled to the bottom, like that last big log settling into the embers. The situation presented itself that I was going to see one of those people again. My mind started to build the scenarios and the rebuttals … and then, with a clunk, it was right in front of me. My mind was creating these ridiculous “issues” that would surely lead to difficult situations where I could swing my hammer! [such crap] These situations never actually came up, by the way. I was never right. 

Deep in the cob webs, there was another, totally different issue. This other issue had come up before around this person, likely without malice, but it was something that I didn't want to talk about. It was something that was embarrassing or difficult for me to square. Turns out the issue was mine and mine alone. My pea brain was making lots of smoke to cover this other thing; to keep it hid. I've discovered that nearly all my reactions to similar people in my life have involved something else; something deeper.

It is so good to learn. My brain knows now too, so it doesn't race so easily. I still have work to do, but even if not all the assholes are covered by this new loophole, its really just my work on my issues. Now I don't have to worry about how to react to the other person -- it was me all along.

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