Monday, September 7, 2015

You Never Know

This week as I was driving to work, a black pickup truck zoomed past me in the middle lane. I was in the fast lane, passing traffic, so I was surprised to see that the driver gave me a "dirty look." He was a middle-aged man with a mustache that bristled as he sped past.

A little elaboration: I live in New Jersey, so when someone flashes me an angry look--especially unwarranted--my hackles instinctively bristle. I can't speak for other regions of the country, but in New Jersey a dirty look is tantamount to a declaration of war.

But I practice Zen so of course I would never act on my knee-jerk response of contempt. Instead, I just noted the emotion and kept driving.

At the next red light, however, he and I were stopped right next to one another. I drive with my windows open whenever possible; his were rolled up. So you can imagine my surprise when he started to roll his window down.

This. Is. Not. Cool. 

What was he going to say? I had been driving attentively--no swerving or unnecessary braking. What could he possibly complain about?

Expecting the worst, I felt my chest tighten in anticipation of a conflict.

Then he smiled and made a friendly comment about my bumper sticker. My tension melted. The man had been driving to work at 7 AM like everyone else, noticed my bumper sticker, thought it amusing, and had passed me on the highway. He wasn't angry at all.

The entire conflict had been in my head.

We exchanged a few light words, and when the light turned green, drove our separate ways.

My mistake was in thinking that I knew his intentions. I was totally wrong. The tradition of Zen that I practice aims at "Don't know" mind--a clear and open receptivity to life, uncluttered by the buzz of judgments and criticisms.

Our minds naturally continue to churn the thoughts out in the same way as a leaky faucet drips water.

But what do we do with the judgments? Do we bite the metaphorical hook and believe them? Or do we notice them, allow them to buzz around in our heads and then eventually fade away (probably to be replaced by some other wild thought)?

In life, we don't know; we only think that we do. Assuming that we know what someone else is thinking or about to do makes us feel in control. But it is an illusory control, one grounded in assumptions and therefore unreality.

Not knowing is our true nature--free and unbound by concepts. So "Don't know" all the way to work and back.

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