Dignity Down Low

I learned something today.

I’ve been having trouble relating to a man at work. I admit it, I’ve been kind of cold to him lately. It stems from an incident that happened at few weeks ago between me, the man and another person. The specifics aren’t important except I felt the situation was tinged with racial overtones but I didn’t say anything at the time. I just shut down. I didn’t feel he could understand my perspective. But I have been practicing so, today, when he was near by I tried to stand in my space and breathe with my heart open.

You know what happened? I suddenly remembered something I was feeling yesterday. The market I sometimes stop at on the way home from work is in a well-heeled neighborhood. As I went into the market another women came in at the same time. I immediately “typed” her. Trim, blond, wearing a “I shop and hike in this” expensive, down vest, expensive leather backpack in lieu of purse, carrying her reusable shopping bags. I think I was thinking, “Well good for you” and not in a good way. Coming out I remembered something I could get in the drugstore next door. I drove over, hopped out and there she was again. She had walked over from the market and I think I was thinking, “How correct”. But then I thought that it was a perfect opportunity for… a bow.( Once again I refer to my favorite article;  http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/long-journey-bow)  I had given in to “the conceit of self”  in a big way.  So I bowed figuratively.  My judgments about her aside (greater than, less than, equal to), that woman reminded me about saving resources and I was grateful because that’s important to me.

But today I realized that there’s more to it than that. I was angry and frustrated in both situations. Since I’m African-American, I also have that added layer of what the article calls “the legacy of scraping”. That woman and my co-worker have the benefit of being part of a group that has always been at the top of the pecking order in this culture so they don’t have the same legacy. No matter what I think of their ways of being, those ways will always set the standard. And, in terms of this society, no matter what my way of being, they decide if I am “other” to the point of unworthiness. But I chose not to internalize that. As the article says,

“The path to renouncing scraping can be long and liberating, a reclaiming of dignity, and a letting go of patterns of fear. Discriminating wisdom, which we are never encouraged to renounce, clearly understands the difference between a bow and a scrape. A true bow can be a radical act of love and freedom”

I learned I choose to renounce scraping and bow in love and freedom. So, when it came to the supermarket lady, I was successful. It was hard to get over myself in the moment but I did it and I bowed.   It’s going to take me some more time with my co-worker. I’m grateful my practice led me to not just try to open my heart but to look inside it as well.

The Bow

Recently my Primary Care ordered a GI imaging test for me. I knew I’d have some time in the waiting room while drinking my barium cocktail so I decided to spend the time catching up on some reading. I grabbed a 2008 edition of Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine. I had bookmarked an article entitled “The Long Journey to the Bow. Overcoming the last great obstacle to awakening: the conceit of self” by Christina Feldman. (http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/long-journey-bow)  that I thought was about the loss of the sense of self, which is a subject I study. To my surprise the article was more about the conceit of self, which is a subject I live. It turned out that short piece changed the focus of my spiritual practice. For that reason I share it with as many beings as I can.

The conceit of self, the author (says), is a multi-leveled trap to our ability to practice love and compassion. Within that trap are the dimensions of the Superiority conceit, the Inferiority conceit and the Equality conceit.  “…within those 3 dimensions are the worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.” The most important point is that “the cessation of conceit allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.” The point hit me like a ton of bricks. That was what I was missing in my practice, the ability to bow. I can pray and meditate on losing myself to God all the daylong. But until I am willing and able to cease my conceit of self, I can’t continue to another level of my practice. I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other. My new Mantra is now “greater than, less than, equal to, it’s all an illusion.”
I had asked God for mercy but also to allow me to accept. So it felt as if the article was there for me with the right message about what my perspective needs to be. What a gift I was given in that article. Please read the article. I hope you’re able to get just as much from it. Let me know what you think.

I now read the article every day but maybe I should put a copy over my desk at work.