Earlier today I realized after my morning coffee that I had forgotten my wife’s papers at the office last night, as well as a bag of gifts that one of my patients had given to me to give to my 3yo daughter. Dang… because that means I’d have to drive, which also means that I’d have to drive around other drivers, and other drivers are – to put it mildly and skillfully – challenging. After another 60hr workweek and a record breaking January at my healing practice, I was tired, and in no mood to “put up with” other people. BUT… if I were to be something of a skillful seeker of The Way, as well as bring home the stuff I left at the office, I must get out of my own dumb head and do my thing. So I got dressed, walked a half a block to my car, slapped on a good audiobook (Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent” – which is hilarious, by the way), and off I went.
When I got within a block of my office, and for some reason, the sight of the golden arches of the McDonald’s sign suddenly popped into view with a rather profound distinction unlike I’ve ever experienced in the last few years since I stopped eating meat and fast food. Then I felt my stomach rumble. How odd, since I don’t particularly like fast food. However, I was hungry, and I could use some hash browns and an orange juice. So I slowed down and turned into the McDonald’s parking lot.
Right as I turned into the parking lot towards the drive thru, a silver colored Honda who was driving towards me suddenly punched the accelerator and bolted aggressively right at me, then turned right into the drive thru with a daring sharp turn, finishing with a screeching stop at the ordering screen. The young millennial in the passenger’s seat turned and looked at me like they had just beaten me at ping-pong.
“Jesus fucking whore Christ,” I said to myself, while simultaneously almost regretting that I did. I tried to tell myself that they must’ve been hungry, and that their puppy is dying in the back seat, and if they didn’t get it a sausage and egg mcmuffin on time, it would certainly meet the doom of samsara. But I didn’t. All that came out of my mouth inside of the safe anonymity of my own car is “Please go on ahead of me kind sir, I do recognize how fucking important you and your boyfriend are, and that I realize that if you had to wait 30 seconds behind my order of hashbrowns, I know you’d certainly be late for your appointment with your goddamn television set. Fucking rat-race ass piece of shit.” I was saying all of this to myself as I watched him yell into the ordering monitor, watching his order on the screen becoming progressively larger and larger.
“Hooo-leeee SHIT, guy. What the fuck are you ordering? Can you even eat that much? Are you ordering for your goddamn church?” He finally stopped yapping at the machine and drove through. I proceeded to place my order and waited in line patiently, still blathering on to myself about the guys in front of me. Lord knows what I said. The funny thing was that the people in front of them apparently ordered a ton of food as well, and that’s when I remembered that five minutes in a fast food drive thru line seems like an eternity to many people. It was kind of fun watching the two morons in front of me go apeshit as the seconds ticked by. I remember the last time I was at a drive thru, it was at White Castle where it’s customary to order 30 cheeseburgers at one time. I finished about half of the book “War and Peace” by the time I got my 2 veggie sliders and fries.
Anyway, Mario Andretti and his trusty pal Sancho Panza finally got to the drive thru window, ungraciously received their order, but then waited a couple of minutes to check and recheck their order, holding up the entire line behind us. Then I watched as the driver opened up his door and tossed trash out of his car onto the ground. The littering was a nice cherry on top of their deliciously ignorant sundae.
I couldn’t believe it. That’s when I lost it. That’s when I looked at the assholes in front of me, and all the assholes behind me. I’m surrounded by assholes. I yelled at myself. Why did I do this to myself? Why did I place myself in a situation where I would willfully receive mediocre food suited for people of the most mediocre existence?
That’s when it hit me: maybe they weren’t the assholes. Earlier today, I tweeted:
More often than not, a judgmental person is only viewing you from the mirror and the filter of their own ego. pic.twitter.com/mExhxGQN2i
— sonny (@UrbanTaoistMonk) January 31, 2016
I posted that tweet because throughout my life, people were being judgmental towards me. But it struck me… that right in the middle of McDonald’s today, I was being judgmental as well.
I was exactly who I thought those people were: an asshole. ME. I was the asshole.
A part of our suffering comes from the fact that we believe, no matter what circumstance, that people “should” act a certain way, as opposed to accepting the fact that people simply act the way they do. There’s a huge difference there. Thinking that people “should” do or be certain things is a product of our own ego, a filter… and it causes us so much anger, indignation, and maybe even resentment. Accepting people, animals, circumstances, and weather for what they do and what they are at the particular moment is the only real skillful way to remain centered and at peace.
By no means am I condoning littering and dangerous driving as “good behavior,” however, it’s really important to note that there are people who are so incredibly “stuck” in their own sense of self importance that, for whatever reason – whether circumstance or upbringing – they just don’t have it in them to be mindful of the cause and effect that their actions have on the world. As Jesus pleaded to God as he was being tortured on the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
The same goes for seekers of The Way, or The Tao. Not everyone is where we are in life, and we have to understand that it’s not their fault. Many people just don’t have it in them to seek a higher version of themselves, the compassionate version of themselves that realizes the interconnectedness with the entire world around them. Once we reach a certain level of cultivation, then we realize that we have to be responsible for our own reactions to what others do. We can’t judge them, but we can help them if help is what they’re seeking.
So what would I do if I had a chance to rewind? I would have simply allowed the guy to move into the drive thru first, which I did, but without the animosity. I would have simply waited, ordered my food, and continued listening to my hilarious Bill Bryson audiobook. And when I witnessed the littering, I would have waited for him to drive away, get out of my car, and I would have thrown away the garbage properly. And like water that simply moves around a stone blockage, I would have gotten my dumb food peacefully, without contrivance.
But I can’t rewind time. So all I can do is learn.