Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Everyone is noble

The old man was already seated at his table, as usual. It seemed to me, no matter how early I tried to be, he was already there for each lesson. The thought passed through my mind that he might always be there. As I sat and the waitress brought me my coffee, he began his lesson for the week, in his usual catch-me-off-guard sort of way.

“Everything everyone does, ultimately, is from a noble place in their heart.” For once I had no immediate, smart-ass remark. I thought perhaps he had gone off the deep end finally, as old as he was. After a few seconds of silence, the response which I knew that he knew was coming, did. “What? That makes no sense.” “Of course it does,” was his reply. Based on every other meeting I'd ever had with the old man, I knew he'd eventually win. So, rather than argue, I chose to remember that I knew absolutely nothing, and I prepared myself to learn something, yet again.

“You mean even a homeless drunk on the street, who chooses to stay drunk all the time, rather than contribute to society, is acting from a noble place in his heart?” He said, “Remember, I said 'ultimately.' And you must also remember what 'noble' means. Do you remember?” My head nodded in agreement before my brain was aware it did, in fact, agree.

“The drunk you reference, is he so different than you, when you smoked grass all those years? Why did you smoke so much pot?” After a bit of honest self-analysis, I remembered I was trying to hide from my own pain. “I was hiding from my problems,” I replied. “You were hiding from an onslaught of mental anguish. You were trying to cope with your own failures, shortcomings and previous bad choices, were you not?” Through the stinging harsh truth, my eyes confirmed he had me pegged. The kindness in his eyes reminded me he understood. Once again, I opened the door for another lesson as difficult and painful as it would be liberating. The old man never disappointed me there.

“Is a person not, at least, valuable to themselves, and therefore deserving to manage whatever pain and suffering they may be struggling with?” He saw I was listening actively, and continued. “Although they may be going about in the wrong way, that 'drunken bum' (making air quotes) means well. He's just misinformed. He's merely unaware of a better way, like so many. Like you were once.”

“Thieves steal, because in their confusion about life, it seems to be the fastest way to fulfill a need. Killers kill from a desire for some sense of justice, as perverted as it might seem to us. Liars lie out of a need for self-protection. Bullies on a playground abuse others, as hard as it may be to understand right now, out of a yearning for love, understanding and friendship.”

“So, how could they be shown a better way?” I asked in my naivete. “That's not the point of today's lesson,” he answered. “The point of today's lesson is for you to learn how to cope with what seems to be stupidity from others.” Taking another sip of coffee as I wrestled with the thought, he continued, “Until you learn to completely master your own emotions, forget helping others. You would only amplify the problem – and that's not why we came here. Learn how to not hate your enemies and you'll never waste a drop of energy. That gives you more resources to win the battle ahead of you.”

The waitress, in all her glory, somehow knew this week's lesson was over and brought our check. He grabbed it before I could. “My turn,” was all he said, smiling. Since he grabbed the check, I left the tip. It was the perfect yin and yang arrangement.

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