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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 69 Boston came in dead last. Yes, below Los Angeles, New York, even Philadelphia, home of sports fans who indulge in targeted vomiting. (Sadly, Beantown ranked twenty-ninth in head strengths, suggesting that we Bostonians don’t necessarily strike a balance between intellect and emotion, but that’s another story.) Essentially, Boston is America’s least emotionally evolved major city. Yet validation didn’t solve my dilemma; some- thing had to be done. I couldn’t ride a Green Line train every day in a suit of emotional armor, closing myself off in anticipation of anarchy. Was there some way to come to terms with the native population without exhausting my paycheck on therapy? Eventually I realized what should have been obvious all along—my frustration with my community pointed back to me. What needed to change wasn’t so much Boston; it was my attitude toward Boston. I had to stop wanting everyone to behave as I thought they should, according to my desires. Simply put, I needed to learn tolerance. As the Dalai Lama says, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” Clearly, Bostonians would have to become my teachers. The isolation I’d inflicted upon myself (and which I’d blamed on my neighbors) had sup- pressed my own inner development, I now real- ized. Observing this showed me how far I still needed to go toward experiencing any kind of freedom. Yet I also felt that the realization rep- resented an important step in my journey. I now pay close attention to my reactions to rude behavior. When I’m shoved aside by another commuter dashing into a virtually empty sub- way car, I’ll notice my teeth clench and feel my stomach tighten. Other times, I might observe myself withdrawing into a kind of numbness, as if this could insulate me against life. And I often remind myself to observe my indignation at oth- ers’ behavior and let it go. Observe it and let it pass without grasping or pushing it away. I have to remember that these reactions aren’t me, nor are they lasting; they’re just energy rising and falling, like everything else. I’m not going to blame them on others, or myself, for that mat- ter, although I sincerely hope the reactions will recede in time. The armor I’ve been wearing to ward off Bostonian behavior has gradually, albeit not completely, softened. While I won’t claim I now hug my neighbors—and I still react irrational- ity to the Boston left—my attitude is changing. I’m beginning to develop some perspective on my situation. My frustration reminds me of the spiritual path I’m on, as well as how far I still need to travel upon it. The Dalai Lama says that our enemies give us the most crucial opportunities to grow. So maybe I should thank Bostonians. Had I stayed on the West Coast, where people are more polite, well-mannered, and, well, cultured, I may have become complacent in my delusion. This I know: we’re all in the same boat. One simple, singular goal unites us: we all want to be happy. We arise each morning and face the day as best we can, negotiating the joy and suffering life may bring until the sunsets finally stop. So who am I to judge others? And why would I know- ingly increase the distance among us? So thank you, Boston. Thank you for being America’s least friendly city, because it also makes you a dynamic teacher. For every screamed obscenity I’m subjected to at Copley Square, for every irrational driver and self-righteous, bellow- ing sports fan I encounter, I will try to offer grat- itude and extend loving-kindness. I may never learn to embrace the orange traffic cones, but I will practice politeness and compassion and sur- render my seat on the T without judging those who don’t, because I know that we can help one another. As Pema Chödrön says, “We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” It makes no difference that Pema probably never rode the Green Line.