Finding Compassion

There were very few customers in the store, everything seemed pretty chill except for the man behind me. I could feel his impatience growing. I could hear audible gestures of agitation. The Starbucks barista was having a little difficulty with the register, and I was adding money to my account before ordering a couple of drinks to start an easy Sunday. The transaction may have taken a few moments longer than your average purchase, but not by much. I finished my purchase and walked over to the order pick-up area. I looked over and saw the man give me a nasty look. When my beverages were ready I walked to my car and proceeded home. As I was pulling out the man was preparing to cross the street, so I came to a halt. After a brief moment of hesitation on his part I signaled for him to cross, which he did while shaking his head in disdain. I chuckled.

It would be easy to chalk it up as another asshole in a growing world of assholes, but I didn’t want to settle at that today. I recall working in the prepared foods department of Whole Foods on Pearl St. in Boulder, one of the busiest departments in one of Whole Foods busiest stores. This was one of the more challenging jobs I’ve had, where often the customers behaved with an air of entitlement and treated the employees as inferiors. Following an incident where I reacted a bit harshly to a customer’s tone and a verbal jab that I took too personally, one of the long-time team members gave me some sage advice. He said, ‘Everyone has a story, a background that we don’t know of before they arrive in front of us placing an order.’ It’s true and it’s life-changing to think this way, the person in front of me that I don’t know anything about is just like me – riding the ebbs and flows of life with potential radical changes at any turn. Very rarely will I ever truly know the magnitude of what they are facing in that moment, and certainly can’t expect to know what life is like walking in their shoes.

Today, before I had arrived at the Starbucks I was in another part of town. The Starbucks there was incidentally closed due to electrical problems. The unexpected closure was probably adding at least 20 minutes to my ‘easy trip.’ Due to the inconvenience it would’ve been easy to be curt, but I tried instead to look at the rude man who had given me 2 dirty looks in a matter of a few minutes, and see the story I didn’t know not just the 5 minute scene I had witnessed. Perhaps, he was desperate for coffee, and his life was filled with inconveniences far exceeding mine. Does it excuse his behavior? Of course not, however, if I react in kind it only fuels the fire of anger and negativity that is brewing in today’s manic society.

It’s difficult to find compassion when people are mean, or rude, especially when it’s unwarranted. Trust me, there typically is a little spark within me that wants to put people in there place real quick, much like I did that time working at Whole Foods. Being a yogi doesn’t mean being a pushover, but it does involve learning to act skillfully. Compassion means understanding – understanding that we are human, and we all want the same things: to be happy. My teacher Seane Corn, taught compassion thusly, “Let go of the story and see the soul.” In other words, let go of your ‘stuff’ and look beyond everyone else’s, this is the key to unlocking true compassion. Maybe we can practice compassion progressively. Stage one: see our shared humanness, remember we each have a backstory and we’ve all made mistakes. Stage two: see the divine in all, the shared light we are honoring when we say ‘namaste.’

If I behave in a way that is destroying the foundation of happiness rather than contributing to the building of happiness then I’m being a hypocrite when I lead my classes in chanting Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. Does this mean I’m perfect? No, far from it, but hopefully with continued practice each time a fellow human is in front of me, or sighing impatiently behind me, I can remember that I’m in the presence of the divine. Like the Jeremy Aldana quote gracing Breathe’s window, “Each time a man looks into your eyes, he is only searching to find himself; for he knows already, that he is part of you.”

To the light within.