Earlier I thought of an appropriate response as some esoteric act that only cats, lamas and other enlightened beings were capable of. This notion has been evolving with time and I see it now as showing up for a situation, seeing what it asks for and acting from that place. There is no separation between the self and the situation. Then I simply know what to do, how to react and leave the rational mind out of it. Most of the time the appropriate response is not what I think it should be (surprise!) and I can end up doing what seems like the right thing but still something doesn’t feel right. Possibly because trying to figure out appropriate response outside the context of the situation is as meaningful as trying to bottle the air. In many Zen stories a teacher gives different advice to different students in the same situation.
Can someone but me know what my appropriate response is? Above all, how do I know?
I stopped eating meat a few years ago and when I did it seemed the most natural thing to do, at least to me. I sort of promised myself to not make a religion out of it and so far it never has been an issue. Even when on one particular occasion I actually did eat meat.
In autumn of 2005 my friend and I were working on a project in Nigeria. Our time at school where we were teaching was running out and to thank us for our work there its proprietress Mrs. Lawson organised a trip to the nature preserve with waterfalls. She generously let us invite our friends most of whom were university students and who we had stayed with during the first few weeks in the country. Mrs Lawson chartered an equipped with AC bus and loaded it with food and soft drinks enough to feed a street.
Our friends were not spoiled by this kind of outings and at first felt stiff in Mrs Lawson’s presence. After a while they loosened up, started cracking jokes and before we knew it everyone on the bus was doing what people do when feeling overwhelmed with joy – singing. The Iron Lady of the Ogun state herself relaxed, looking more like a caring mother with a bunch of noisy kids than someone used to socialising with the kings and the President. I was convinced that her strong and clear voice was reaching all the way to the tops of the covered with the trees mountains we were passing by. The two of us were unfamiliar with the Christian praise songs and songs in Yoruba so we could only smile back at our friends and laugh with them to this unexpected luxurious opportunity to get together in this way, bouncing on our sits as the bus made its way deeper between the mountains.
After a whole day at school we were getting hungry and Mrs Lawson opened up the bags with snacks. When it was clear that all mini pies contained meat I took one without much thinking and only by the surprised reaction of my friend realised how unusual it actually was. True, I don’t normally do this kind of thing and yet I did without feeling guilty. I did not go on a guilt trip then but later on wondered if the episode meant I could not live by my principles and was short of integrity.
I remembered the bumpy and joyful ride to the waterfalls as I was reading one particular chapter in Byron Katie’s “Loving what is” where she tells a story of another ride. After quitting smoking (cold turkey, as a result of her awakening), eleven years later she took a cab in Turkey, with the loudly playing music and the constantly honking driver. When the driver offered her a cigarette, she took it without thinking twice: “The music was going full blast, the horns were going full blast, and I sat in the backseat, smoking and loving each moment. It’s okay if I do smoke, I noticed, and it’s okay if I don’t, and I notice that I haven’t smoked since that one wonderful taxi ride.”
(To be continued…)