On Being Called an Idiot

Stupid idiotIt’s a perfectly lovely, breezy day, and I’m walking my daughter to school and taking the dog for a stroll.

Conversation surrounds whether the dog minds being on a leash and “Dogs have feelings too mom!”

I’m feeling general anxiety I haven’t felt in weeks, frustration that ebbs over the general state of the world and our actions in it.

Must be the wind, I’m thinking, which is reminding me of the storms, and the people dying in Puerto Rico, our American protectorate.

And I’m shooting the breeze with a friend and venting over a parking ticket when I notice that she’s just called me an idiot.

To be fair, she said: “Oh I wondered what idiot parked like that,” smiling, and it was me. I’d just told to her that I’d deserved the ticket and I knew I’d parked illegally, and took this response in.

On Being Called an Idiot

Last night I made a quick run to the library to pick up a book that Aniah wanted. On checking out, the young librarian and I started swapping lists of favorite young adult books. She touted “13 Reasons Why” as her favorite book.

“Not the show,” she insists, referring to the controversial Netflix version of the book. “I’ve never seen it. The book never plays out the *suicide*” (whispers). “It’s a series of tapes played back. It really gives you an insight into the world and how your actions affect other people.”

I heard what she was saying. As people we feel like we are isolated clouds, but we are really one big atmospheric system.

When I stopped into the UPS store yesterday, the young cashier (named Hannah) was so loving, efficient and cheerful with the customer ahead of me.

I was overwhelmed by it. It flowed out of her. When she smiled at me and asked how she could help me next, I had to tell her.

“You are wonderful!” The older gentleman ahead of me, who was still there, turned to me and said “She is, isn’t she??”

Getting hooked

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, talks about our tendency to get “hooked,” of being triggered in a moment of insecurity, leading to feelings of aggression. The Tibetan word for this she uses is shenpa. ShenpaChodron says, is a kind of seductive attachment we feel, a “getting hooked.”

Noticing that feeling of getting hooked is the key to understand my own response to it. I feel it, and I recognize that it’s a feeling, and I have to actively engage in the truth that it will pass.

Feeling, Seeing, Responding

It’s also crucial that I understand I can control my response to triggers. At the UPS store, while I was waiting behind the older gentleman, I was impatient. I was heaving and sighing and shifting feet and rolling my eyes. I was an idiot.

Was Hannah getting triggered? Was she getting annoyed? How did she control her response?

She probably did notice my impatience, but it did not trigger her. She remained calm and responded with love. Her response diffused my stress and anxiety and created a circle of joy, right there in the UPS store.

There is no Resolution

It was still a perfectly lovely, breezy day as I completed my walk after leaving my friend. But I felt angry, unloved and unheard. I tapped out responses in my head in explanation and frustration. I could feel my clinical depression — which kicks in now and then — lapping at my shores.

At home, I put these words down. I remembered that the parking officer triggered in me an underlying sense of injustice I feel often toward parents and working moms. His job to give tickets to parents picking up their kids triggered my frustration with a stagnant and economically feeble town. It triggered my ongoing desire to leave this town, and the loss of my mother which happened this time of year.

So I put these words down here, to express my restlessness and my unease. This is not directed outward; this is my experience with shenpa.

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing.

–Pema Chodron







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