"Actually, you're not allowed to do that," he scolded in his snippiest voice. "The coupon was sent to you, not her."
"Oops," I said, feeling like an idiot. Then I accepted the coupon back and walked away.
Minutes later in my car, I replayed the scene over and over again in my head. I mean, here I am trying to be a nice guy, I reasoned, and this jerk comes in and makes me feel like a moron! So what if he was doing his job; he could have done it a little nicer.
This lasted for about two minutes when I finally remembered my practice and told myself to stay mindful, to stop fighting the embarrassment burning in my chest. I took a deep breath and opened myself up to the physical sensations. Soon they began to diminish, and so I started investigating the lingering embarrassment and anger. It was then that I felt their emptiness. Normally when I try to study a strong emotion, it feels like I'm chewing on a hot iron ball. But now, as the feelings were ebbing, I witnessed firsthand their transitoriness. In fact, I couldn't hold onto them even if I had wanted to. It is the nature of emotions (and all phenomena for that matter) to fade and change.
Whether or not I was right or wrong didn't matter. What mattered was that I didn't cling to the experience and its accompanying emotions. I let them arise and diminish, unchallenged. As this happened, I felt a subtle sense of freedom, which itself then faded. (Apparently it's just as easy to get caught by a feeling of freedom--trying to trap it into something solid--as it is with any other experience.)
I drove the rest of the way home, waiting for the embarrassment to return. It didn't. Now I kind of understand what the Dalia Lama means when he says that we should thank those people who challenge us.
They give us an opportunity to practice.
Maybe I should shop at that bookstore more often!
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr used: brewbooks.