Friday, January 18, 2013

Toltec Agreement 2: Don't Take Anything Personally

Read Toltec Agreement 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word 

Read Toltec Agreement 3: Don't Make Assumptions

I'd like to tell you a story.

My family and I went on a 5-day cruise to the Bahamas last year. A dream vacation I'll never forget, the excursion was a tremendous experience, from picturesque Miami and the spectacular Florida Keys to the pristine waterscapes of the Bahamian islands. The room on board was comfortable, the activities fantastic, the staff attentive, and the food options satisfied my vegetarian needs. On the fourth evening, as the liner's propellers ripped through the waters westward from Nassau -- heralding our return journey -- my family and I gathered in the Dining Hall for our last meal on board. With each sway of the wave crest, we excitedly sailed through our activities and experiences of the day. The waiter appeared and after exchanging pleasantries, we ordered our food and beverage choices. The waiter returned with our beverages and appetizers. Amid snorts and laughs, we took ravenous bites of the bread and large swallows of our drinks, as if we were breaking a fast. 

When dinner arrived, I plunged my fork into my plate and extracted a piece of food that looked like a cauliflower floret. Its chewy texture and unfamiliar taste, however, was an instant red alert. Chicken! My forehead creased up, my eyes widened, and my mouth fell open. I could feel horror rising in me. Lowering my head, I rose slightly and pushed back my chair. I suppose this was the opportune moment for me to have yelled out in anger, flung a few undesirable words in the waiter's direction, perhaps even engaged in dramatic behavior to express my outrage, such as splashing a glass of water on the waiter's face. It's the generalized, conditioned reaction one would expect to see. Instead, I grabbed myself and made a mad dash to the bathroom to rinse off my mouth. 

With my heart rate dampening and adrenaline normalizing, I re-joined my bewildered family, quickly appraised them of the situation, and then signaled the waiter. I proceeded, as calmly as I could, to describe to him what had happened and requested a replacement meal. He apologized profusely, then ran back in and returned in an instant with the correct entree and his manager. This marked the beginning of a better evening. Very somberly, he explained how he had mistakenly picked up the bowl of chicken curry instead of the paneer curry, which, incidentally, is set in an adjacent tray on the same counter. His explanation sounded plausible and he appeared to be genuinely sorry for the oversight. My shock began to wear off. His manager apologized and assured me that the waiters are well-trained and this was a legitimate slip, which occurs rather infrequently. I guzzled down an entire 8oz. of water and took several deep breaths. The manager's manager stepped out and apologized. Nearly everyone, but the captain, came forward and expressed regret. I have to admit that I appreciated their candor and truly welcomed their customer-oriented service. 

As for my own lack of what generally would be perceived as a "normal reaction" following the discovery of chicken on my vegetarian tongue, I had a choice: I could have taken it personally and made it all about me, or I could have exercised restraint, taken command of the situation and then responded in an appropriate, responsible and mature manner, regardless of my emotional state -- which is what I chose. There's no question that I was feeling violated and betrayed beyond words. To a lifelong vegetarian, experiencing meat can be rather traumatic. To me, being vegetarian is a discipline; I have nothing against my meat-eating brethren. Generally speaking, I prepare my own meals as it affords greater control over what goes on my plate. When we eat out, I talk to the waiter and/or chef and weigh them down with questions until my culinary doubts are satisfied. Thus, in this instance, had I chosen to act out my feelings, I still would have been justified -- in a manner of speaking -- given that I didn't have control over plating my food.

I knew there had to be an explanation for the way in which things had unfolded that evening. It's a well-known fact that cruise ship employees work under rigorous physical, mental and emotional strain. Most of the staff stays on board for 9-10 months at a time, away from family and friends, and works nonstop from daybreak to late night, everyday. When someone works under extreme circumstances, like cruise ship employees do, you can't help but empathize with their situation. Sure, the waiter served me meat, but he didn't do it to spite me or diss me. It was a valid gaffe and he took responsibility for it. At the end of it all, I had to realize that he is a human being, as I am, and embodies deficiencies and imperfections, as I do. With the humanity in me willing to let go of the trauma of the incident, I was able to power forward with pleasant memories of the cruise rather than have recurring nightmares of the incident.

One thing that I have learned in life is lashing out in anger wastes time for sure, but it also holds us back from transitioning into the loving, balanced beings that we truly are under the cloak of our ego. Reacting with anger, denial or defensiveness only serves to fortify the cloak's protection, making it impossible to favor values such as compassion, forgiveness, gratitude and equanimity. Try channeling anger into action, and watch as your obscured, true self begins to reveal itself. With continued efforts, egoic wants such as resistance, judgment, and the habitual negative thinking slowly begin to diminish, while pressing needs such as love, sensitivity and empathy gradually begin to amplify. 

Of course, merely nodding in agreement to and applauding the beauty of philosophical concepts cannot bring about true and lasting change. To actualize change, you must give yourself permission to change, and hold the intent. You must experience the reality of existence in the raw and in the now. Meditation is a tool that allows you to make that conscious contact with your inner self and regain the power of intention. When you get busy rearranging your brain cells, you will have no time left to engage in negative behaviors, make needless assumptions or take anything personally!  

1 comment:

  1. exciting blog posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a brilliant writer.