There are lessons we all need to learn. Sometimes the agents of those lessons come to us as lovers, as friends, or members of our family or as strangers. How are we to know when someone enters our lives how much we might need to learn from them?
I have always been chided by people for engaging with strangers and I have to admit that there have been times when it has caused me potential harm. I remember one encounter in particular when a homeless man who had pulled a knife on someone just ten minutes earlier asked me for a cigarette. I only had one left. I was smoking it at the time. He seemed to need the smoke more than I did, so I gave him the cigarette from my lips. He took it and wandered off. A security guard then approached me and asked me if the fellow had pulled a knife on me too. The exchange shook me to my core when I realized that had I been less generous, I might have been injured or even killed.
There have been times when I have engaged strangers and have walked away carrying a gift of love and fulfillment that I never expected to find. I am thinking particularly of a young man in Lisbon, Portugal. I met Mario when I was there in 2005. He was living with AIDS on the streets of that beautiful but very hot city. I spent 3 days in Lisbon and I made it my goal to feed this young man a healthy meal as often as I could. I bought him a t-shirt to replace the heavy wool sweater that he was wearing in the 110º F temperatures of that Portuguese August. He gave me the gift of knowing how lucky I am to have a home, medication, food, appropriate clothing and health care. He and I could have been interchangeable, but people are not fungible...each of us has his or her own set of gifts and liabilities. To quote the lyrics of one of my favorite 1 Giant Leap songs, we are "wounded in all the right places."
I recently watched a documentary about the life of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Supreme Buddha. From this film, I learned of the lessons that brought the Buddha to his enlightenment and his realization of the Middle Way. At one point in the film, a poet and scholar spoke of approaching life as if everyone we meet is the Buddha. For those of you who follow Christianity, it would be the same as expecting every stranger you encounter to be the Christ. We could apply the same concept to every one of our Earthly religions and question if every stranger we encounter is the avatar that we seek to emulate. Are you the Buddha? Are you Christ reborn? Are you Mohammed who has returned to deliver a message of love and peace? How might we know?
The lady who spoke about this dilemma ended her dialog by repeating a single powerful question: "Buddha?" "Are you the Buddha?" "Buddha?" "Buddha?"
I fail. I have failed to see people in my life as potential teachers for me. I have allowed my ego to be a wall that blocks the lessons that I have needed to learn. It is part of human nature. One of my points of enlightenment is the recognition that I have to forgive myself first for that failure. I can not forgive anyone else until I forgive myself.
I try again. It is hard to let the ego go. It is a powerful enemy of spiritual growth. Nonetheless, I see that I must move beyond my own pride and hurt feelings to forgive those who have hurt me. I may fail again. I am not sure. For those who acknowledge the wounds that they have given me, I forgive their actions because I know that they are doing the best that they can do with their particular blessings and failures.
If I fear that someone hasn't understood the nature of their affront to me, am I wrong to continue to keep them at bay? I think this may be another powerful lesson. We might be able to forgive some people and not others. I would like to exhibit completely unconditional love for everyone, but some wounds, when not acknowledged and not allowed to heal can bleed one dry over time. Should we forgive and allow someone back into our lives if they continue to stick their finger into our wound and open it back up? I think not. I think we must forgive ourselves for failing, but we must keep those people out of our lives until they can acknowledge their own enlightenment of how they have wounded others. For each of us, this is a very personal debate and we need to be at peace with our own ghosts.
Today, I am at peace with the people who matter most in my life. I know that tomorrow can be different if new wounds are inflicted, but today feels like a healing. In particular, I forgive myself and I forgive my most recent lover.
Buddha? Are you the Buddha?
Categories: 1+Giant+Leap What+About+Me Wounded+In+All+The+Right+Places kd+lang enlightenment forgiveness Lisbon