The best opportunities to practice are often disguised and often feel unpleasant.
Two weeks ago I travelled to Aix-en-Provence to work.
It turned out to be one of those rare and slightly bizarre trips; everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong; my credits cards did not work so I found I could not hire a car. My arrival coincided with the national yellow-vests’ protest which meant extra time on any journey as we negotiated the road blocks. There was also a group manning a road block just 300 metres from my hotel which managed to make for a night of shouting, cars and trucks honking fire engines police, only about 3 hours sleep. I am sure you get the picture. Fortunately, the people with whom I was working there had organised everything very efficiently but were also good company and also exceptionally kind.
After all the palaver getting to the course, it was with some relief that I got into the taxi to go to Marseille Airport. My taxi-driver was a very kind lady and in our broken English and French we got by. Suddenly she turned to me and asked, “would you like a massage?” I was confused by the question and wondered for a moment what she meant. Then she pressed a button and my seat gave me the most thorough back massage. So I wasn’t being propositioned!
I have come to really treasure my weekends. So that Friday morning, as I headed out to the airport my mind was switching between being present, taking in all of my surroundings and getting completely lost in the fantasy of my weekend (also enjoying my massage). I am sure if you ever have to travel for work then you will know that feeling of the anticipation of arriving home, that place where we are just who we are, where we at our most comfortable, where we feel most loved and where we love our loved ones. My mood was positive. I arrived in plenty of time, sat at the departure gate in a warm cocoon of my beautiful anticipatory fantasy. With only twenty minutes to go until the scheduled take-off there was still no sign of boarding. Then it came… an announcement of technical problems. I felt a slight tension in my body as reality started to undo my fantasy.
Later, I found myself in a queue for more than two hours trying to get re-booked to get home. They offered to send me to Rome then Madrid. It was becoming clear that my weekend would last little more than thirty hours. I admit in that moment that I felt sorry for myself. My inner three-year-old started to put out his bottom lip and I felt irritated, sad, angry, self-pity – all at the same time. “So little time for the weekend and here I am spending it in the bloody airport!” I sat in the departure lounge knowing that I still had another 8 hours to go in the airport on top of the 5 hours I had already spent there.
It was fascinating watching this pattern unfold within me: my attachment to being at home, the idea that I should be at home, that I deserved to be at home (understandable but pointless). My mind, full of righteous indignation wanted to drag me into a pointless “being right and offended” angry conversation. In past years it would have succeeded.
The power of the rational mind is great; note the ease with which one can slide into despondency and or anger.
However, I thought this is also a great opportunity to practice so many things:
Patience: the quality of being patient, the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. To have patience with a slow learner.
Compassion: The staff that had to deal with us were working with limited resources and with many irritated and angry people. The women on the desk made a perfect focus for that anger. The fact is that they were doing their best and were also suffering. I made sure I thanked them and wished them in my heart peace, happiness and health.
Gratitude: gratitude for everything. Being alive is a miracle. There are so, so many different way in which I am fortunate so this inconvenience in the context of the rest of my life is small change. I was grateful for the opportunity to practice..- eventually.
Kindness: In these situations there are many opportunities to be kind to others, to help others, helping them with their cases, their luggage for example or keeping little children amused, etc.
Impermanence: This too will pass. The situation and feelings that went with the situation were all impermanent.
Meditation: I spent so much of my time being mindful, meditating practicing with different foci.
As I sat late at night in the airport I realised that I was very happy. I felt connected, at peace and looking forward to getting home and above all spending some time with Rhea.