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As I write this, I'm sitting at a cafe in Manhattan called Nice Matin (Morning in Nice) at the corner of Amsterdam Ave and 80th. It's crazy cuz my beautiful wife and adorable kid are back in Nice and I'm in NYC at a cafe called Nice Matin thinking about them. My little guy started preschool today and I was heartbroken not to be there with him.
I'm aware of other crossroads too, particularly that intersection of life and death. I'm only a few blocks from where John Lennon was shot and killed. I'm drinking a glass of Chardonnay because a few weeks ago was the 3-year anniversary of my sister's death. She died not long after we'd visited NYC together. Chardonnay was her favorite.
It has me thinking about all the crossroads I'm experiencing in my life and I thought I'd share a story today about the crossroads between justice and compassion. I think you'll like it.
While I'm in NYC I'm teaching a Yoga Nidra for Happiness workshop at Pure Yoga on Wednesday evening and a Freeing Breath and Yoga Nidra workshop with Tiffany Curren at Nirvana Wellness in New Jersey on Thursday evening. On Friday I'll be teaching a Glow Yoga event at Rose Wagner Theater and on Saturday I'll be teaching a 2-day silent retreat. All of these events have room in them, though many are nearly full. Visit my calendar to get more information and to register.
Last year I was walking to meet my dad for lunch while listening to voicemails. I was alarmed to get a message from the Salt Lake City Police Department. We live within spewing distance of a hospital and the officer in the voicemail informed me that someone that morning had left the ER feeling, “grumpy” and decided to bash in my truck’s passenger window with a rock outside my house. After a moment to process this information, I decided that it was decidedly glass-shattering only and not earth-shattering. I hung up the phone and I said out loud to myself, “Meh. I’ll fix the window. I’ve been dealt worse. Next, please.” And with that continued down the street toward enchiladas and my dad.
Perhaps I’ve become immune to the mishaps of Nina, my trusty, rusty truck. This is the second time that someone has purposely broken my passenger-side window. And two years ago this same truck was stolen right out of my hands—literally, I was holding onto it as it went.
Nina was found almost a month later but without a catalytic converter and a stereo, which incidentally was already broken so I guess the joke’s on him. Instead of grand theft auto, it was more like mediocre theft auto.
Between vandalism, theft, and occasionally breaking down, it sometimes feels like my truck is cursed. But then I have to remember the fact that my truck was very generously GIVEN to me with no strings attached at a desperate time of my life and for over 10 years it’s been fairly reliable. With all of its bumpy roads, and despite logic or reason, one thing about this truck is true: This. Truck. Won’t. Die. Regardless, I plan on finding an auto-shaman to smudge it or conduct some sort of auto-exorcism.
While I decided to respond to the news of my broken window with a, “Meh,” to say that I was entirely nonplused about my broken window would be to largely oversimplify my emotions. I was relieved that the call from the police revealed something as benign as a broken window but money was tight and I was not jazzed about paying for a new window simply because someone couldn’t deal with feeling, “grumpy” in a way that was more productive than bashing in my window. After a little more thought about my broken window and what it would cost to fix, I started to get fully pissed off.
I teach yoga and mindfulness for a living yet I’m not immune from feeling anger. I believe the mindful approach to anger is not to ignore nor react to it but instead to acknowledge and to respond to it with my whole body, mind, and spirit. If anger arises in me, I must satisfy the animal instinct of that energy maybe by busting out some yoga postures, crush up a hill on a run, or by sitting in my truck alone (preferably with all the windows intact) and screaming all the four-letter words I know, four-letter words other than love, hope, . . . and nice.
But before I teach others about the mindful approach to anger, I have to do the work on myself. One thing I’ve learned from yoga as well as many misguided years of trying to “control” my emotions, is that everything is connected and if my body can’t express emotions, then they will shut off or express themselves in other ways which are usually destructive or alienating.
One beautiful reward of this inner-work is the love I have developed for all emotions, including anger. I’ve learned that every emotion is a powerful tool that helps ground me to the present moment. As I work to understand my True Identity, that biggest part of me which can’t be defined by where I live, what degree I have, or which kind of car I drive (or don’t drive if it’s been recently stolen), the more I feel comfortable when an emotion rolls by because I know that I don’t have to define myself by that emotion. This emotion is just doing a drive-by and like everything else in this dynamic universe, it will eventually pass on down the road.
Knowing that this emotion will soon drive away actually frees me up to truly experience it to the fullest. It takes practice but when I feel anger, I try to experience the feeling to the fullest, to be grounded by it, rendered present by it, and then hopefully respond to it by maybe busting out some sun salutations or strapping on my running shoes and going for a run for an incredible release. All in a good day.
Back to the broken window . . . After first hearing about my broken window and deciding that it wasn’t a life-ending tragedy, the reality of the situation began to set in. I started to think about who bashed in my window, how even if they did catch the guy, that chances were that I’d have to go through the effort and pay to have the window fixed. I started to get pissed.
But fortunately, after only a few minutes of fantasizing about retribution, what I’d say to the guy who broke my window if given the chance, this lust for justice as well as my anger, drifted away and out of sight. Somehow justice grew into compassion for whomever bashed in my window because when I play out the more-than-likely scenario in my head, anger or retribution seemed frankly absurd.
When I truly thought about it, I realized that nobody feels great after leaving the ER. Or maybe this person experienced something supremely tragic in the ER, either to himself or someone he cared about, and had emerged with such emotional cataclysm, one that had risen to what was probably blandly described as, “grumpy” by the SLCPD, such that the only response in this blind fit of emotion was to bash in a window.
Out of the ER, there’s really nowhere to go but past my house. Perhaps the first objects one would most likely see after leaving the ER is my truck parked at the curb in front of my house. It’s bright red, you can’t miss it. It would almost scream, “Hey, you! Upset? Need something to hit? I’m ugly, inanimate, and insured. Hit me!”
He must have strode directly toward my house and recently landscaped yard, a project I took on a couple of summers ago as an emotional life raft against the raging sea of my own craziness when my two yoga studios were terminally sinking. During that project I discovered the healing magic of pulling weeds! There are few things more satisfying than looking over a plot of newly cleared soil with a mountain of weeds next to it.
This guy must have seen one of the 10-pound rocks I placed decoratively on top of the bark chips, contemplated the hard and unforgiving truth of rock bottom, then looked at my unblemished car window, back at the rock, back at the window. . . The temptation was no doubt irresistible. I think a message written on the rock that said, “Hey, friend! Could I suggest maybe pulling a few weeds to remedy your upset?” may have proven fruitless.
My brave Chubby Hula Dancer attached to the dash of my truck (actually, re-attached after her kidnapping two summers ago) was thankfully unharmed in the event. I bet she was nervous as she heard the commotion of this disturbed fellow coming her direction, saw him approaching like a drunken bear. And as he was wheeling back his arm, rock in hand, her fears confirmed, I bet if you were listening closely you might have been able to hear her soft, consoling voice now resigned to the inevitable, speaking to him under the din of his furry, “Come on, Honey. Make it good. Make it count. And don’t worry about me. I’ve dealt with worse than a rock through a window.”
After one explosive crash it was done. Chubby Hula Dancer didn’t even flinch. Eager to leave the scene, I’m sure the disturbed man continued on downhill like a storm cloud rolling across the landscape. And if you were listening closely you could probably hear my Chubby Hula Dancer say, “I hope you feel better, Punkin.”
Now as I think about it, I bet smashing that window felt fucking amazing. And for all I know, they guy who smashed my window was completely lucid, deciding that smashing the window was the best way to respond to what he was feeling. I have to concede that.
That day I received the news about my window, many different emotions passed by me like cars wizzing by me on the freeway. By the time I got home I had largely processed my anger and fleeting desire for justice. By then I’d firmly decided that my broken window was just information, nothing more and nothing less. At home, I found the big rock tucked under the pedals on the driver side.
As I swept up the glass, despite all my frustrations, I hoped he hadn’t hurt himself. I didn’t see any blood. Glass everywhere, all over in the cab, all over the street, all over my bark chips, but nothing else was disturbed. My stereo had been conveniently stolen when my truck was jacked so there was no worry about that going missing. After sweeping glass, I went on an exhilarating run fueled by my former frustrations.
I fixed the window and 12 hours later my truck was back to normal. The world turns. Both the smashed window and the run were just occurrences, and somehow both were necessary.
If ever you find yourself leaving the ER near my house, first let me offer my condolences; I’m sure you weren’t there by choice. When you leave, you’ll see my truck parked outside of the first house you might come to. If you’re feeling upset, could I suggest maybe pulling some weeds? But if weeds just won’t do and you somehow have the wits to be fully connected in body, mind, and spirit and decide that smashing my trucks window is really the only solution that feels right, then God bless. There’s a rock nearby with your name on it.
And after, please know that this is getting expensive. Maybe you could also please leave a few bucks in the broken glass somewhere for a replacement. Or maybe a pie.
And if you’re wondering which house is mine, you can’t miss it. It’s the one with a red truck parked out front near the corner of Justice and Compassion.