I meditate in the morning often, and will sometimes use this practice to calm myself when I’m freaking out about something in my daily life. So last weekend, when I was part of a work-in-progress performance of a play I’ve been co-writing for the past six months, I meditated a lot. Just sitting quietly for a few minutes can really make the difference for me between being totally scared shitless and being terrified but functional. On opening night, I pulled into the parking lot behind the theater a little early. My heart was thumping out of my chest. It was raining and dark. I decided to meditate.
I locked the car doors, pushed the driver’s seat all the way back, took off my boots, and pulled my legs up into a cross-legged seat. I set the timer on my phone for 7 minutes, put my hands on my thighs, and closed my eyes. I breathed, inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale, watching it flow in and out, like I instruct you to do at the beginning of class, like Tara Brach instructs me to do via podcast once a week. A few minutes elapsed. My breathing continued, smooth and steady. My mind drifted to the events of the evening. I noticed my wandering, and came back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale.
Out of nowhere came KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!
I jumped out of my skin and screamed that short, ridiculous scream I sometimes do when a car scares me on my bike. Outside the window was a stranger, bedraggled and forlorn, asking for spare change. I was so startled and reactive that I just shouted “NO!!!”, and the man backed slowly away from the car and walked off down the sidewalk.
Immediately I felt remorse. As a full-time cyclist, I rarely get panhandled on my bike. But anytime I drive a car, I make a point to always give money or food to anyone who asks. I figure that anyone who is spending their day that way likely needs that dollar or that apple or that LaraBar or that half a king cake (true story, I did recently pass one out the window to a grinning man under the I-10 overpass) way more than I do.
I don’t give to feel superior, or to absolve myself of the guilt of living in a system that willfully lifts some of us up while holding others of us down. I give to practice kindness (my New Year’s resolution), and to practice offering freely, without stipulations or requirements or reciprocation.
I have been looking for, and asking for, more opportunities to practice kindness. And yet, when the opportunity arose for me to give, I panicked. I fell back into my old habit of reacting instead of responding. I said no, when to say yes would have been just as easy.
Side note: If you think I shouldn’t have opened my car door to a strange man in a dark parking lot regardless of my well-meaning and woo-woo intentions, you might be right. But for now, let’s forget about practicalities and let the metaphor stand, okay?
We don’t want to be asked for money and be startled when we’re meditating in the car before a show. We have lots of ideas about how we want to help someone in need, what we want to offer them, what they will then do with it. We want for the opportunity to be perfect, to be just how we’d like it, or just how we planned it.
Opportunity knocks. Sometimes literally. Will you open the door?