Do you ever get irritated by other people?
Of course you do. The silly things they say. The way they speak to you. The daft things they believe in. That thing they did the other day that just…. urgh it was so annoying! Why can’t people just get a grip, grow up, educate themselves, listen more, try to understand, stop getting in your way and STOP IRRITATING YOU!
I know it’s not just me who has days like that. We all do. My favourite literary character, Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax, asks “Why can’t people think clearly?” She means why are they so blind, so easily led, why are they so credulous? Why, in short, do they not think like her? But then in Carpe Jugulum we find her so twisted in upon herself and her beliefs of how people see her that she is willing to believe that her friends have abandoned her and treated her cruelly. This is not the case but she acts on that paranoia. She is not thinking clearly.
And who suffers the most when we allow ourselves to think that way and to react that way?
I am fortuante to live not far from the Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Chorlton, and I attend a meditation class there most Monday evenings. You don’t have to be a practising Buddhist to attend, and indeed I am not. The class structure is a led meditation, followed by a talk, followed by another short meditation and then tea, biscuits and chat at the end. The messages of Kadampa Buddhism are simple to explain but difficult to put into practice, and the weekly reminders are such a beneficial addition to my toolbox for life.
Last night’s talk was on The Inner Wealth of Compassion. The title made me smile as we talk about compassion all the time in the #MatExp campaign, indeed it is one of our core Heart Values. So I thought I knew all about it, and particularly how other people should be practising it. Oh yes, a lot more compassion is needed. From other people. Oh yes.
Yet as Sam led the class it seemed as though he was talking far more about the day I had just experienced (being irritated by numerous people) rather than the changes I would like to see in maternity care, or elsewhere. Sam spoke of how we view other people, all living beings in fact, and how we can make a wish for them to be happy. This does not mean fairy dust and starlight (although feel free if you are so disposed) – it means consciously thinking, all the time, that I wish for the people around me, for all living beings, to be happy.
The beauty of the Kadampa form of Buddhism is that it is adapted to Western life. So Sam spoke of sitting at the traffic lights and changing that everyday experience. Instead of feeling irritated about the behaviour of other drivers, the delay at the lights and the other typical morning problems, I will look around me at the drivers and pedestrians and consciously think “I wish for you to be happy.”
Simple? Yes. Fluffy? Undoubtedly. Effective? Well try it and see. Go through your day with that thought in your mind, in the supermarket, at the school gates, on the motorway, in the office, and see for yourself the difference it makes to your day. To your state of mind, to how you view other people, to your level of compassion and to your own happiness.
Speaking to a priest in Carpe Jugulum, Granny Weatherwax explains “And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” Those irritating things, standing in my way in the aisle at Aldi, walking too slowly along the pavement, not moving quickly enough at the lights, complaining about things I haven’t got time to deal with and sharing misinformed nonsense on social media. Those things! The bain of my life! Other people!
But they are not things. And Granny Weatherwax is right, compassion is lost every time I think of people that way. Every person around me wants to be free from suffering. Every person around me wants their life to be that little bit easier. Most of the people I will encounter in my day are feeling just as tired, frustrated, fed up, misunderstood and hard done by as I am. And by making a wish for them to be happy I remind myself, all the time, that they are not things but that they are human beings deserving of compassion.
Let’s make that wish for others and for ourselves. Let’s spend this week consciously wishing for the happiness of others as we come across people in our jobs and in our lives. And let’s remember that we too deserve to be happy. Let’s see if compassion flows more easily and irritation is markedly reduced. Let’s see if we feel lightened and heartened and more optimistic about life in general. Do you think it will work?
As Nanny Ogg would say, “bet you half a dollar.”