I think I may have shared this story before, but recent events have brought it back to mind, and have taught me another valuable life lesson…
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
Whilst on the train back from London the other week, a young man tried to steal my shopping bag and book. When I caught him, I yelled at him. He, in turn, yelled back – I can only assume being afraid that he had been caught and going on the defensive, and then retaliating by being aggressive. No one on the train helped in any way. Had I not yelled at him, the outcome might have been completely different. Then again, it might not have been.
Had I remained calm, and simply stated calmly “That’s my stuff” perhaps he would have simply returned it without the ensuing shouting match, elevated heart rate and fear of attack that came on. Should I have simply acted calmly and with compassion? Most likely. Instead, I acted out of anger – this man was stealing my stuff, which I had spent my hard-earned cash on. Who did he think he was? Anger at someone’s hands on my belongings simply enraged me. And yet, the Zennist would simply reply “Who is this Me?”
If we are all connected, then shouting at him would simply be shouting at myself. Ridiculous. This doesn’t mean that those following Zen or Druidry should be doormats – in no way, shape or form does this apply. It simply means that there are many ways to deal with a situation that involve both compassion and empathy for all involved. I do not know why he was stealing my things. I can never know why. But he felt a need to. I did not need to respond out of anger.
I was able to let it go, after only a few short hours. Testament to practice with both Druidry and Zen meditation. But still, the reaction could have been better in the first place. Of course, there was no way I was going to give him my stuff (I’m SO not there yet) but I should have wanted to give him the moon, at the very least. It was a wake-up call, that you can talk about how to react to a situation until you are blue in the face, but only when faced with the realities of a situation does the “practice what you preach” come to the fore.
It was a humbling moment. Anger is found all too easily. It is a good cover for other emotions and problems in our lives. Time to return to my core, which is that which is shared between us all.