Most of us live in a series of bubbles.
First of all, we live inside this body. We are NOT our bodies. Each of us is a spirit soul residing in a body. Next, we surround ourselves with family and friends; generally, we limit ourselves to just a few people.
Then we surround ourselves with what we believe are our possessions, our house, our car, our things. But, of course, since at the time of death we cannot take them with us, these are not really ours at all.
I am no exception. At times it’s like I am in one of those deep sea ‘bubble’ submarines, where I am an observer of this world and not part of it. Sometimes people are easier to deal with if I look at the world like this.
But I realize this is a self-centered way to live. I need to reach beyond the ‘bubbles’ I have built up around me as a defense to stay in my world. I need to reach out from such an insular existence, reach out to others, my brothers and sisters.
Years ago, when I met my spiritual teacher, Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda, one of the reasons I was so drawn to him was the unconditional friendship and kindness he showed me. For the first time in my life I felt that here was a person who truly cared for me, wanting nothing in return, having only my well-being in mind. It was a foreign experience because almost all relationships in this world are based on give and take. Because of seeing this quality of unconditional friendship in Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda I’ve persevered with this process of bhakti yoga – the chanting/saying/singing of God’s names.
SHARING A CIGARETTE LIGHTER – enlightenment!
A true story.
A few years back I began to think, “Do I follow the example of my spiritual teacher and practice unconditional friendship towards people I meet? I didn’t think so. So, 40 years or so on from meeting my spiritual teacher, I thought maybe I should start trying to.
The next day I went to the doctor for a renewed script. A young lady of about 30 came in and because the waiting room was almost full, she took the seat next to me. She had a little boy about 2 or 3 with her in a pushchair. She was quite well groomed and refined looking as only some European women do.
With this idea of unconditional friendship fresh in my mind I asked her the boy’s name and mentioned I had 6 kids. I talked about how while I knew they need discipline (not physical), I also wanted to make sure that, when they reached adolescence, the relationship changed from parent to friend. Now I considered them to be my 6 best friends and I think they feel the same towards me. I also said they’d all managed to stay close to one another over the years. You never stop being a parent, but the relationship can also be one of friendship.
She teared up at that and said she was from Croatia, and had been in Australia for 2 years. She said her mother, while a loving mother, could never show affection, and that she missed that. In fact, her whole family was like that and she was trying to break the cycle.
She then asked a lot about me – what I did, why I was easy to talk to etc. So, I told her about meditation and that the main thing to know is that I/we are not these bodies, that each of us is a spirit soul temporarily in a body.
At that point I was called into the doctor’s office. When I came out she was still there so we talked a little more before she was called in.
I went to the pharmacy to get my subscription filled then she came in also. I said goodbye and went to my car. But I realized that I’d left my sunglasses in either in the doctor’s waiting room or the pharmacy.
As I was walking back into the pharmacy I thought “There is a reason I’m coming back in here”. My sunglasses were nowhere to be seen but the young lady was still there, and she asked if I wanted to talk more outside once she received her medications; she needed to have a cigarette. Sure, I said, but I’ll just go check the doctors for my sunglasses.
After retrieving my sunglasses from the doctor’s office, we went to a cooler part of the shopping centre and talked more, probably for about 1/2 hour about lots of everyday stuff but quite a bit of philosophy too. She smoked a roll-your-own cigarette after asking if I minded (though a non-smoker I said I didn’t mind). She admitted it was a habit hard to break, and was smoking ‘rollies’ to save money to go back to Croatia and visit her mother.
As we were talking, a guy about 45 with a beer in his hand and with a son about 8, came up to her and asked for a light. He had a store-bought pack of cigarettes, missing teeth, red eyes and while not being drunk, he’d definitely had a few. When she gave him a light from her cheap cigarette lighter, he offered her a cigarette. She said “No, no, no, I have my own”. He insisted but still she refused.
I said to her “Maybe you should take the cigarette?” She looked at me quizzically but took it. He offered her another and she took that too. Then he walked away with his son and sat down on the grass to await the taxi he had called.
I said to the lady (Christine by this time) “He offered you a cigarette in gratitude for the light.” She said, “Yes, but I don’t like taking things, it’s easier to give”. I said “Yes, but how does he feel? He feels offended”. “Oh”, she said, and thought about that.
We talked for a while longer and then she said “Oh, I’m sorry, I have to go and give that man my cigarette lighter, I have 2 more at home”. We went over to him sitting on the grass and she offered him the lighter. He said, “No lady, I just wanted a light and you gave me one, no worries”. She said, “No, I want you to have it, I have 2 more at home!” He said “No, I’m fine, don’t worry about it. I said, “Please take the cigarette lighter”.
He wasn’t sure but he took the lighter. We wandered off and talked some more. Christine asked me what I did these days and I mentioned I had a retail gift shop. She knew the place, had shopped there occasionally, and said she liked the lady there. “That’s my wife,” I told her “Go and talk to her any time you like.” After talking a little longer, we said our goodbyes.
Getting into the car, I remembered the guy with his son waiting for a taxi so I wandered over and asked where he was going. He was headed to a fast food restaurant down the road to get lunch for his kid (one of 12 apparently) so I offered him a lift. He refused at first but eventually the boy got in the back and he in the front, a beer can still in hand.
As I drove we talked a bit. He offered me a beer, but I told him didn’t drink, that’s why he wouldn’t see me in the pub! I pointed out the shopping centre where our gift shop was. When eventually we got to the restaurant, I pulled over and said “You know, I just met that lady for the first time today. She wanted to give you that lighter because you gave her the cigarettes and she was moved by your gesture!” He was stopped in his tracks and just sat there and thought for a while. “Shit, really?” I could see he was quite touched and, although his face was turned away from me, I could tell he was tearing up a little. Changing the topic, he said, “So you own that gift shop?” “Yeah, if you ever need a gift tell them Charlie sent you and to give you a good discount”.
As he was getting out of the car he reached into his wallet and pulled out a $20 note and placed it on the seat. “No, no, no need!” I said. Then… the penny dropped: “Oh right, thank you very much!”
Hahahaha, who was getting the lesson here? I felt like I was in a Tarantino movie! I drove off and, next day, put that $20 note in the donation box of a reputable charity.
Unconditional friendship and kindness. Though not always successfully, I try to practice it every day.
It’s not always easy to change our habits, but studies have shown that people who practice being friendly and kind to others live a happier life. Yes, it is harder to receive than give, but we need to understand that humbly receiving and appreciating acts of kindness from others is beneficial for both parties.
Both giving and receiving, and acts of unconditional friendship and kindness have their own rewards. So before we reject a gift, or an offering from someone, we should think twice, think how the other person will feel if we don’t accept.
I have never smoked, apart from some early teen experimentation, and do not advocate it. But it is legal, and I accept that some people choose to smoke.
I never saw Christine again but ran into the guy with his son one more time and we talked a little more. This time he appeared sober. I do believe that because the Lord is with us, always alongside us in our heart, small things can help change us, help us to listen to that inner voice.
The Lord in our heart sees if we are treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated, so we should not underestimate these acts of kindness to our fellow brothers and sisters. The more we engage in acts of friendship and kindness the more we become connected to the Lord in our heart.
I heard once that Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda said that we should ‘habitualize’ listening to the Lord in our Heart. I really like that word ‘habitualize’ (even if it is not in the dictionary!) In other words, make it a habit to listen very carefully for that guidance. Because I have lifetimes of pollution surrounding me, the spirit soul, often the Lord in my heart is hard to hear.
The way that I can hear more clearly is by chanting God’s Holy Names with sincerity and relish, then my Lord becomes clearer in my heart.
Namaste, Chaitanya das