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S in the City

Controversy, Contentment, Compassion (WMRI retreat, day 3)

Show me a bathroom without a hook on the door, and I’ll show you a bathroom designed by a man.

Here’s an exercise for you Ngöndro students - visualize holding a purse, a laptop case and a scarf in your arms while hovering 2 inches above a toilet seat for a couple minutes. Done? Now visualize reaching for the toilet paper.

At the morning teaching session I fantasized about fedexing Lerab Ling a bunch of stick-on hooks that I would get at Walmart for a dollar. Meanwhile, Rinpoche was telling us that the source of all fear was a mind untamed. As I tried to figure out whether my bathroom beef stemmed from my untamed mind, or did I just need to buy hooks, a man raised his hand. He wanted to learn how to handle the anger of his spouse. Rinpoche dug deeper into the matter, at which point the man told a shocking and very disturbing story.


The reaction in the hall was palpable, and though people were silent the atmosphere became very heavy. Rinpoche gave the man advice without condoning his actions and then the rest of the session turned into a meditation, as we all needed to calm down.

As we left the hall, the agitation resurfaced. People talked about it at lunch, and throughout the day. The topic of the afternoon session was contentment and the instructor, Erric Solomon, diffused the tension in the room by making us all laugh. It was a welcome diversion.

We then saw a video about a rickshaw puller in Mumbai. He lived with his family in a one room shack in a slum. Some days, all they ate was rice with salt. He pulled customers through the chaos of Mumbai in the blazing summer and the ferocious monsoon. Through a poll, this man was found to be as happy as the average American. He spoke of coming home and seeing his son at the tea stall, and the joy he felt when he looked at him. He described his home as comfortable even though rain came in at times. He pointed out that he had a window. His neighbors were wonderful. He couldn’t ask for anything more.

Then a lady stood up in the hall and spoke. Her son died when she was 29. After experiencing that, none of the regular upheavals of life in the decades that followed seemed to affect her that much. Living through a loss that profound had helped her find contentment. My morning’s peeve about the hooks seemed very far away.

Last year, a friend and co-worker committed suicide. He was 29. None of us in the crew had any idea he had been at that point. While living through my anger and pain at his death, I had resolved to be kind and loving to everyone I met. I realized how little I knew about the grief other people might be carrying. Who knows, I thought, one kind word could pull someone back from the edge.

Today I recalled that resolution. I thought of all the love I have in my life and I felt compassion for the man who spoke today. I saw his suffering and that of the woman who lost her son. I renewed my intention to try and cultivate compassion and love for all beings, to honor my friend and to help all those who were silently suffering.

This blog is in memory of Matt Hughes. May you still be chasing tornados, wherever you are.