Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Small Life-Lesson at Whole Foods Market

A recent trip to Whole Foods Market taught me a lesson about anger, compassion, reaction, and response.

I was waiting in the express line. There was one line for two registers. While I was waiting, a man cut in front of me as soon as one of the registers became available. I didn't say anything at the time.

However, as I left the store I saw the line-jumper mulling about, looking at his receipt. I stopped and said to him, "You do realize you cut me off in line?" He appeared a bit taken aback, then said "No... I didn't realize." I walked on and went about my business.

Walking home, I was a bit annoyed at the guy. After all, the he didn't even apologize for cutting in line. But after a minute or two, I became annoyed at myself.

Why did I even bother confronting some stranger over something as trivial as jumping line at the market? What did I hope to accomplish? Did I really need or want an apology? Not especially. Was I acting as some sort of retail etiquette vigilante, informing a miscreant of his misdeeds so he would not be a repeat offender? Perhaps I thought I was, but I wasn't. Was I being forgiving and big hearted? Absolutely not. After all, the lines at Whole Foods can be confusing. Chances are the fellow just made an honest mistake.

Worst of all, I was being a bit of a bully, something I strive not to be. Would I have taken similar actions if the line-jumper had been bigger and scarier looking than me? Doubtfully. In fact, I was quite a bit bigger and scarier than the line-jumper, and probably startled him. Why? Because I was irritated and felt the need to express it? Not good enough.

Soon I felt less annoyed with myself and more embarrassed. Soon I felt less annoyed with myself and more embarrassed by my own behavior. However, as Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön has written, feelings such as embarrassment are "like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck." During that brief encounter at Whole Foods, I was stuck on reaction (anger) instead of response (forgiveness). Now I paused not only to forgive the guy at the store, but more importantly myself for acting rashly. 

By the time I got home (about 10 minutes after leaving the store), I felt as if I had gone on a small-scale mental (spiritual?) journey from anger to more anger to embarrassment to forgiveness to a rededication to try to live in a gentle, benevolent manner. I have no doubt that Chödrön's "messengers" will continue to come. Hopefully I will have the clarity to listen to what they have to say.

1 comment:

  1. I try to ask myself "What is in it for me?" Not in a selfish way but more like, "If I go to the trouble of being the grocery store line police, what will that accomplish for me? Will it change the fact? Will I get to my next destination sooner? Will it make me money? Will it give me piece of mind? How will it positively affect me? What is in it for me?"
    I admit, I am not always as skillful as I could / should be yet I try.