How often do you really see the people that live around you, those you cross on the streets, with whom you wait in line at the supermarket? I often don’t even notice them, until the stick out of the grey mass by either annoying or confirming me -as if they were part of my personal TV-series. And as on any film set, the majority of the people are the extras –a name that already reveals how we regard most people that we rub up against in our daily lives. We hardly notice them.
At the same time, according to the Buddhist traditions, it is our relationship to these dozens of “neutral” people that is essential to our wellbeing. (The same way that boredom is so essential to fully live our lives and not just fragments of it, –see my previous post on this.) Because you see, the people we sit next to in trams, that we buy our soja latte’s from aren’t just the backdrop of our TV-series. They are complete, parallel universes of existence (cleverly disguised as a jerk on the highway maybe, but still).
There are many Buddhist practices that train us in seeing the parts of our lives that we usually overlook. (I’ve listed some helpful resources below) These can be parts of ourselves, of our thoughts and emotions, but this extends to the larger world. By going further that just seeing the people that are either “with us or against us”, we open up our minds and hearts. Buddhist teacher, psychotherapist and author Tara Brach calls this “enlarging our tribe”. In her book ‘Radical Acceptance’, she talks about one of her students that used this next affirmation in her daily interactions. She would say to herself when coming across another person “You are real.”
I was profoundly touched by this simple suggestion. Whether it’s an old lady on the streets or a beggar, someone you feel attracted to or appalled by, try saying to yourself “You are real. You have a life story; you have hope and fear just as I do. You are someone’s child. You are on your way to something. You want to be happy just as I do. You are real. I see you.”
What does thinking about others “get you”, I am often asked. I can only speak for myself, but when I feel the real-ness of others, it opens up my world. It opens me up to the countless possibilities and tragedies that make up this thing called being human. The world feels less hostile when I open up to the fact that we are all in it together. I feel less stuck in my own TV-series. I feel less hardened.
We truly are so much more alike than we are different. And it’s exactly in this connection that we discover grace. Don’t take my word for it, test it yourself. One of these days try noticing someone that you would usually wouldn’t, and silently say to them: you are real.
For more on Buddhist views on opening up your world and Guided Meditations to help you do it, check out:
Audiodharma.Org: One of my favorite dharma resources on the web. In these series and guided practices, Gil Fronsdal will introduce you to the practice of metta, or loving-kindness
This article of the wonderful Pema Chödrön: To Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself.