In spiritual practice, everyone is your teacher. Compassion is cultivated through this recognition, and the people of the world become family rather than foes. You can imagine that, at one time or another, everyone on this planet has been your son, daughter, father, or mother.
I know what you’re thinking. But what about my actual mother? The one who guilt trips me into calling her every day, and then just breathes heavily into the phone, asking me why I don’t call her more? Yes, even your mother is your teacher. Especially your mother! Think of her as a lesson in gratitude. Breathe along with her, feeling grateful with each inhalation that she granted you this precious human rebirth, and further grateful with each exhalation that she still lives in Duluth.
What’s that you say? What about that guy that honked at you at the red light this morning for not turning right on red? Even that guy? Indeed, that guy. That was a lesson in sensory appreciation. The honking is a reminder that you have been given the gift of hearing. Wave pleasantly in your rearview mirror. Feel the motion of your hand as it cuts through the air. Make note of the honking as it becomes incessant. Turn when the light turns green. Do it super slowly.
What about Larry, who sat next to you in the meditation hall, interrupting your single-pointed concentration with his strange stomach gurgling issues? Yes, even Larry is a lesson. For sure. Larry is a lesson in dietary discipline. After the sitting round ask him what he had for breakfast. Then make sure not to ever eat that.
What about that woman at the grocery store who repeatedly rammed her shopping cart into your heels while standing in line? Can she possibly be some kind of lesson? Yep. That was a lesson in right speech. Turn around, and politely ask her to refrain from pushing the cart into your heels.
What about the fact that she kept doing it? Lesson! That was a lesson in perseverance. Everything is temporary. Soon the cart will no longer be ramming into your heels. Soon you’ll be enjoying the Kit Kat you bought in the shopping cart-free environment of your car. If she happens to walk by, break her off a piece of that Kit Kat bar. That will be a lesson in compassion (and also a lesson in the fact that half a Kit Kat bar is not nearly as satisfying as a whole Kit Kat bar. Next time buy two).
What about your coworker Janet who said, “Well, hello there!” when you came in, and then not-so-surreptitiously glanced at her watch, as if it’s a surprise that you even showed up? Even her? Uh, yeah. She’s a lesson in leverage. Remind her of the fact that you know she made out with Steve at the office party. Remind her that you happen to be friends with Steve’s wife. When you sneeze, make it sound almost like you are shouting “Steve!” Come into work when you damn well please.
What about your dentist, Sheila, who gave you an unnecessary root canal, and botched it, so that now you have to go in for an expensive and painful procedure after work to fix your unnecessary botched root canal? Big time lesson. That was a lesson in the fact that life is suffering, and that suffering is typically magnified tenfold at the dentist. So always brush your teeth. And don’t forget to floss. And leave Sheila a terrible review on Yelp. That will be a lesson in karma for her.
What about the pharmacist, who mistakenly gave you the wrong painkillers after the fixing of your unnecessary botched root canal, the painkillers that are basically over the counter strength rather than the good stuff, the stuff that would knock you right out? Can the pharmacist possibly be a lesson? Heck no! That guy is a jackass. You really needed the good stuff. Thankfully you still have leftover painkillers from the initial root canal. That was a lesson in stashing.
What about your upstairs neighbor, who is now banging away incessantly on his drum set, even though your head already feels like it is being incessantly banged on from the inside? What about that guy? Can he possibly be some kind of lesson, clumsily hammering away up there as you attempt to find respite in your darkest hour? You know it. That guy is me. You’re welcome.
Alex Tzelnic is a writer and Zen practitioner living in Cambridge, MA. He doesn’t actually play the drums. You’re welcome.