Do unto others

I offered a yoga class this week where I spoke about the idea of walking your talk. I live and teach in Belgium, and I am often curious if sayings that are commonly used in the United States are found here in Brussels, so I sometimes bring them up in conversation.


At the beginning of class, one of my students mentioned that she had gone to a yoga studio and been shocked to learn how expensive the classes were.


Seventeen euros! She had said, and everyone gasped in unison.


The horror!


I know, I responded. It’s kind of the weird conflict in the yoga world. So many teachers express their belief that everyone should have access to learning yoga and meditation and mindfulness, yet their courses are so expensive that only those with money can afford them.


I continued, I really admire the teachers who “walk their talk” and truly make yoga available to everyone with the desire to learn and/or deepen their practice. I am a teacher today because of yoga teachers who gave me scholarships and discounts so that I could afford to attend their trainings.


On the one hand, everyone needs to eat, but I think you don’t become a teacher to get rich, though I did get Rich.


I then commenced to share my favorite joke about marrying rich (my husband’s name is Rich). I know, it’s really an awful joke, but I still laugh every time. My students were kind enough to humor me and laugh along (have I mentioned how much I love my students?).


We had a lively discussion as we settled into a comfortable seated position on our mats, and then we began our asana practice.


This idea of walking the talk is one I think about a great deal. For me, it is the idea of taking my yoga off the mat and into the world. I share ideals during my yoga class that I believe in very strongly. If I then leave class and do not embody those ideals, I am not practicing true yoga.


My husband and I sometimes talk about these ideas, sharing our voices in the dark before we go to sleep. Several nights ago, I brought up the idea of The Golden Rule.


Does The Golden Rule come from Christianity? I had asked. They definitely didn’t teach it to us in Hebrew School.


Right, he said. It is associated with Christianity, he had replied. I always felt there was something not quite right about it and that it’s actually anti-empathetic. It seems to be a self-centered or narcissistic way of looking at the world because it’s assuming that the other person is the same as you and would thus want to be treated exactly as you would.


Oh, that’s so fascinating. But it makes sense. I mean, we each experience the world in completely different ways. To be truly empathetic, you would need to try to understand another person’s perspective and way of being in the world without bias from your own preference.


Now back to yoga class. On this particular afternoon, I went to run some errands and have some me time after class where I could just wander freely (without dog or husband), pop in and out of shops, and enjoy the city.


The idea of enjoying the city nearly always seems better in my imagination than in reality. In my mind, I imagine a feeling of peace and bliss, of finding clearance items that fit me perfectly and that I won’t feel guilty spending money on, and of taking myself out to lunch.


In reality, I end up not wanting to spend the money to take myself out for what will likely be a lonely meal with my iPhone. Instead, I skip lunch and wander in and out of shops, growing increasingly cranky as my blood sugar level drops. Every shirt and sweater I find is either too big for my petite frame (80-90s fashion is back) and/or outrageously expensive.


It is shocking expensive clothing is here! Normal button down shirt for €102, I texted my husband after I left yet another over-priced shop. And people must buy them!


Crazy! He wrote back.


By the time I got to the tram stop, I was exhausted, and I had to pee. It was close to 4pm, which meant the tram would likely be packed. When the doors opened, there was barely standing room.


I squeezed in and ran my transit card over the little red box. A couple of stops later, people did their best to squeeze out of the tram. I was jostled around as I tried to make space for the people exiting the car. In the herding motion, I noticed a seat had been vacated and made my way for it. Just as I was about to sit down, a woman began speaking to me in a not entirely friendly voice.


J’allais m’assoeir là, she said. (I was going to sit there)


Ummm, ok. Je ne savais pas, I responded. (Ok. I didn’t know that)


As the tram began to move again, I hesitated, hovering over the seat.


It’s my seat, she continued. You came over here, you pushed me out of the way, and then you stole my seat.


At this point, I am pretty sure my mouth dropped open while I stood there dumbfounded by this soliloquy.


I know that I said a few things in French as to her lack of respectful or ethical behavior, to which she retorted (also in French) something fitting but that I can no longer remember because I can’t seem to practice successful recall for the things I hear and say in French.


Side note: When I taught English in France more than a decade ago, I used to carry around a little notebook to write down all of the new words and phrases I would hear. Since moving to Belgium, I have not taken up the habit. Often, when I hear a new word, I experience a moment of clarity; however, unless I repeat it like a mantra and/or write it down, the clarity and the word vanish just as quickly as they came.


Now back to the tram. My tram nemesis sat down, turned to her friend, who had been standing in the aisle between the opposing rows of seats, and said apologetically, Les jeux de transit (transit games). She sighed.


I fumed for the remainder of the ride and during my walk home. By the time I got home, feelings of being dirty and disgusting had been added to the emotional list.


I walked into our house and instantly took a hot shower to cleanse the experience from my being. While I stood beneath the cascade of scalding water, I thought of all the snitty retorts I could have said I’m French or English, just to add a layer of snit.


Vous etes ecrivain? I imagined saying to the woman. Parce que vous avez creé une histoire superbe.


Translation: You are a writer? Because you just created a great story.

Aka, you need to revisit your grasp on reality because I was not out to terrorize you and intentionally steal your seat. Furthermore, the seats don’t belong to anyone. Aka, get over yourself!


The shower helped, but I still felt fairly awful.


I sat down on the couch beside my husband, who was calmly reading.


Why do I feel so icky? I asked.


She totally made up this whole story that did not at all mirror reality, and she is out there, being nasty to people in the world.


She gave you a good chance to practice, my husband calmly replied.


I guess so. The Buddhists do say that it is the annoying people who help you learn the most on the path to enlightenment.


But I totally let her get to me. I responded in kind to her nastiness, I said and proceeded to tell him about how much fun I had in the shower coming up with clever retorts in French and also English, just to be that much more snitty.


I am so far from being enlightened, I sighed.


What do you think would have happened if you had given her a big hug and thanked her for giving you this gift? My husband asked.


Huh, I responded. This possibility had not even come close to registering in my unenlightened brain.


That’s the goal, right? For your immediate, first reaction to see people for their real self: their suffering and their fear, the cloak they put up around themselves. And it’s the aikido approach. You give no attack. You don’t see or take on their fear that they are protecting themselves with.

There are only two things,
my husband continued, telling me about the lessons he learned from one of his teachers many years ago. There’s love and fear. And only love really exists. Fear is made up.

Maybe she specifically showed up to help you become enlightened. You should bless her.

So just think. Put yourself in your alternative self’s shoes. Just think about what it would be like if, when that happened, you gave her a hug. That you authentically felt gratitude.

Then he started singing Sam Cooke’s “What a wonderful world this could be,” while I groaned and rolled my eyes.
It’s kind of like our conversation about The Golden Rule the other night, I said.


Yeah, well, I always thought they should have changed it to “Do unto others as they would like to be done to,” and called it The Platinum Rule, he said.


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