Yesterday, while Cindy and I were waiting in line for the ski lift, a guy with his son whizzed past in the channel that was empty and reserved for “ski and snowboard school only.” He and his son were neither taking a class nor instructing.
“I can’t believe that guy just did that!” I said to Cindy. “We’ve all been waiting here for twenty minutes while he just skipped the line and went straight to the front. What is he thinking?” Then I saw him apparently arguing with the lift operator, who ended up letting him through. I thought, what a psychopath, he doesn’t even care about us. He only cares about himself and his kid.
Later, as Cindy and I were sitting on the lift going back up the hill, I saw him headed back down the slope, this time with another small child. I noticed a new story forming in my mind: he was taking his two kids down this beginner slope one at a time, leaving the other child with their mother.
I imagined that he had explained this to the lift operator. I noticed that I was trying to construct a story that was compelling enough for me to feel okay with him pushing in front of us. Then the whole thing just fell apart. I had no way of knowing the truth of his situation, and I wasn’t interested in either judging or justifying his actions anymore. Cindy and I were having fun and it was none of my business what he was doing¹.
In the coffee shop this morning, I ordered a pour-over coffee. After a while, I went to check on whether it was ready. It was not ready, so I went back to Cindy and stood behind her, leaned her head back in the palm of my hand, and kissed her face. When I turned around again, the coffee had been made, and the barista looking grumpy, asked, “aren’t you going to take this coffee before it gets cold?” The way he said it sounded to me like, “are you stupid or something?” I found myself believing this story and judging his behavior.
In the car, I told Cindy what happened, and I added, “isn’t it more important that customers feel welcome than that their coffee is absolutely piping hot? I don’t care about how hot my coffee is.” In reality, what he said to me, and how he said it, were absolutely perfect because they were the only way it could have been. My reaction was also perfect. It was not possible for me not to react, because I did.
Later in the day, I was walking through a supermarket and I passed many people who seemed to be really grumpy. I could easily have judged them and thought they should learn to be happy. But that’s just a concept, with no basis in reality. Everyone feels happy sometimes and grumpy at other times. These people were just doing what they were doing, and it was perfect. Cindy suggested that the people were grumpy because, “it’s the holidays.” Who am I to judge what people should do? Even after years of therapy and meditation, I can’t even control my own reactions.
A while later, as I was walking down another aisle, I looked in the eyes of a lady who was walking past me. She looked back at me and seemed to almost jump out of her skin. She smiled and said, “hello!” Surprised, I said “hi,” as I walked past her. I have no idea why she did that. Perhaps I was smiling and that caught her off-guard. Thinking about it now, perhaps she thought she recognized me. In any case, her unusual behavior, whatever its cause, was also exactly perfect.
Even though I still regularly notice that I’m judging people (including myself), it’s not a deep judgement anymore. As soon as the judgement is examined, it’s seen to be totally baseless. People are just people. I don’t put them on a scale. I don’t rank them from “less conscious” to “more conscious” anymore. That’s all just arrogant bullshit. I don’t think that anyone should change in any way.
I also no longer buy-into all the schemes of ranking people on scales from “unhealthy” to “healthy.” I think that people are just doing the best they can in any given situation. I don’t even believe that there are truly individuals beyond the body and brain, a system that is responding the only way it can, based on its conditioning. I don’t see people as being separate from other people or their environment; they’re just part of a larger system.
Footnote 1: After reading this story to Cindy, she told me that she saw this guy going down the slope several more times, and observed more of his behavior. At one point his daughter was lying in the snow, giggling, and pulling on his pant leg while he said to her, aggressively, “I know you’re just doing this to get attention!”
At the lift, he didn’t use the “ski and snowboard school only” channel again, but instead he tried to skip the wait by using the “private lessons only” channel. The lift operator made him go to the back of the line and wait. Later, Cindy saw him sitting with his wife and children; she said he looked really glum.
After hearing all of that from Cindy, I could easily label him as a “selfish asshole,” but I still don’t know the whole story about why he was behaving like that. I don’t know what he’s been through. I can’t even say that he shouldn’t have been behaving that way since he clearly was behaving that way. I could assume that he’s suffering and that being an “asshole” is just a symptom of how terrible his life is; it’s not like he was gaining anything by skipping the line or by missing the opportunity to play with his children. But that would just be another way for me to position myself as wiser or more “awake.” I can’t even judge his behavior as being “wrong” in any way. It’s just how it apparently was.
Would I behave like that? Probably not, but I have no way of knowing. I probably have behaved like that to some extent in the past, and I probably could still behave like that.
We’re always finding ways to make reality wrong, to split it into “bad” parts and “good” parts. I just can’t do that anymore. I won’t do that anymore.
Cindy tells me that she feels anger as we discuss this. She hates to see children shut down. She says that it’s triggering for her. I totally understand that, and the anger and the triggering is also part of the perfection of what’s happening.